Category Archives: Food

Food Industry & Supermarkets

Much has happened since the first supermarkets opened in Japan. The first is said to be Kinokuniya in Tokyo (1953), followed by Maruwa in Kita-Kyushu (1956). The initial reaction was that they would sell cheap and bad food, with cynics sneering at the katakana name, “suupa” (short for super). The expansion of the country’s transportation network made it possible to create high growth and massive profits were made.

The other factor behind the success that should not be forgotten was the appearance of artificial food additives. Bread with up to 30 food additives became the norm, and could be sold cheaply because of its long shelf-life. Products could also be shipped and sold nation-wide. In 1962, before the supermarket boom, Japan had 14,823 bakeries. The industry was soon ruled by the giant company Yamazaki Baking, and the number of bakeries dwindled to 4190 by 1971.

Of course this kind of trend did not just happen to the bakeries. Japan’s Fair Trade Commission has released data indicating that three major companies now dominate all sectors in a way that we can call oligopoly control. For frozen food, the largest three control 59.7% (Nichirei alone controls 32.8%), instant noodles 61.3% (Sanyo 31.3%), instant coffee 94.8 (Nestle 67.7%), whiskey 94.7% (Suntory 64.3%), and soy sauce 43.0% (Kikkoman 31.2%). Over half a century since the trend of industrial production with food additives made highly processed food possible, supermarkets continue to sell these items in large quantities. There is no doubt that our children’s health is increasingly under threat.

By Amagasa Keisuke, CUJ

June  12, 2018

Japan’s Soy Sauce Makers Replied to Our Questionnaire Regarding GM-Free Labelling

Japan’s Soy Sauce Makers Replied to Our Questionnaire Regarding GM-Free Labelling

Consumers Union of Japan

Food Safety Citizens’ Watch

NO! GMO Campaign

Japan is considering changing its mandatory labelling system for genetically modified (GM) food. Currently, a processed food can contain as much as 5% GM ingredients but still be labelled as GM-Free. At a Consumer Agency meeting on February 16, 2018, a new strategy to deal with GM labelling and such contamination issues was discussed.

One of the draft proposals was to set the limit at 0% (below detection limit). If such a strict rule is introduced, it will probably be very difficult for food companies to avoid contamination, even if identity preserved handling is adhered to. This would most likely mean that the current GM-Free label, which is quite common in Japan, would disappear.

On March 1, we sent a questionnaire to six major food companies to ask them about their opinion and how they respond to consumers that do not want to eat GM food. The six companies were Kikkoman, Yamasa, Masada, Higeta, Higashimaru and Morita. These companies use the GM-Free label, or 「遺伝子組換えでない」 in Japanese on some of their products.

We received the following replies from five companies that make soy sauce and use identity preserved handling to avoid GM soy.  

Question 1: Do you agree or disagree with the proposal to change the rule for the GM-Free label, so that it can only be used if the contamination is 0% (below detection limit)?

(1) We agree (2) We oppose (3) Other

Replies:

Kikkoman: (2) We oppose

Yamasa (2) We oppose

Masada (3) Other (Administrative policy decision)

Higeta: (2) We oppose

Higashimaru (3) Other (We will follow the labelling law when it is introduced)

Question 2: If the GM-Free labelling rule is changed to limit contamination to 0% (below detection limit), how do you expect the current labelling on your soy sauce products will change?

(1) If the detection limit is changed to 0%, the GM-Free label will be impossible to use, so we will stop using it. In that case, we would stop importing soybeans that are IP handled and change to start using GM soybeans that are not kept separate from GM-Free soybeans.

(2) We will change the label on our soy sauce explaining that “We use GM-Free soybeans that are kept separate from GM soybeans” and continue import using IP handling.

(3) Other

Replies:
Kikkoman (3) Other (Correspondence is currently being considered)

Yamasa (3) Other (We will continue import using the present IP handling but will consider it again in the future and have not decided)

Masada (3) Other (We will follow the administrative guidelines)

Higeta (3) Other (Correspondence is currently being considered)

Higashimaru (3) Other (We will make a judgement after the legal revision)

Question 3:

What kind of additional information regarding GM ingredients would you like to share with consumers that are considering buying your soy sauce?

Replies:

Kikkoman: The labelling space is limited, so we are considering concise and plain expressions that do not cause misunderstanding to be desirable.

Yamasa: We are listening to the detailed suggestions from the Consumer Agency. We wish that our customers will see the label and understand it.

Masada: We will make a judgement after the legal revision.

Higeta: The most important thing is that the consumer understands the label.

Higashimaru: We will make a judgement after the legal revision.

2018 GMO-Free Zone Movement Report

Free Zone Meeting 2018Report from the 2018 GMO-Free Zone Movement Event Held in Nagoya, Japan

The 13th annual event to celebrate the Japanese GMO-Free Zone movement was held in Nagoya, Aichi prefecture, on March 3, 2018. During the past year, many groups participated in the preparation of the event, including members of the Seikatsu Club co-operative movement, local citizens and farmers groups in and around Nagoya, as well as the No! GMO Campaign.

Some 300 people joined this year’s event. We welcomed five participants from South Korea’s National Korean Anti-GMO Movement and two participants from Taiwan’s Anti-GMO School Lunch Movement. Starting From Seed to Otowa Rice, the research council that promotes the Otowa variety of rice, the Aichi Network to Promote Sustainable Organic Agriculture, and the nation-wide grass-root movement to test wild-growing GM canola reported about their respective activities in Japan. Also, the latest figures from Japan’s growing GMO-Free Zone movement were announced.

The area that is officially registered as GMO-Free has increased by 1,310.27 hectares to a total of 95, 526.27 hectares all over Japan as of February 1, 2018. That amounts to approx. 2% of the Japanese farmland. This may be regarded as small, but please recall that when we started this movement in March, 2006, we only had 4,716 hectares registered, so this is an increase of over 20 times. This time, we also included the official registration of pasture areas and forests as officially GMO-Free.

Supporter registration has also increased. “Supporters” are individuals and corporations that pledge their support to farmers who have declared their land to be GMO-Free. During the past year since 2017, the number of individual supporters increased by 2,505 to a total of 13,351, while the number of corporate supporters increased by 38 to a total of 84 companies and businesses.

We are working towards more GMO-Free Zones in every region of Japan, and the trend is that the areal is increasing year by year. We have also noticed that it tends to increase a lot in the area where our annual event is being held. This year, the event was held in central Japan, and many new registrations came from Aichi, Gifu, Mie, and Shizuoka prefectures. We believe this trend will continue from now on. The next annual GMO-Free Zone event in 2019 will be held in Chiba prefecture, east of Tokyo.

Japan’s Consumers See No Merits from TPP

 

Statement of Consumers Union of Japan

Japan’s Consumers See No Merits from TPP

March 9, 2018

With the controversial signing today of the TPP11 in Chile, Consumers Union of Japan is concerned that “consumers” are not mentioned even once in the formal agreement. “There can be no merits to our health or the environment, or to future generations, when only the interests of private corporations were taken into concern by the TPP negotiators,” says Koketsu Michiyo, General Secretary of CUJ. “More trade in products like cars and beef will further harm the climate, and make life even more difficult for Japan’s farmers, without any consideration of our democratic rights as citizens,” notes Ono Kazuoki, Co-chair of CUJ. “We are not in favour of a trade agreement that erodes rather than strengthens consumers’ right to know, for example if the imported food and feed is genetically modified or not,” says Amagasa Keisuke, Co-chair of CUJ.

The lack of proper consultation with stakeholders by the Japanese government, the secrecy during the negotiations, and the rush to sign the agreement even after the United States pulled out, are further problems that Consumers Union of Japan have identified, together with other allies in civil society in Japan and in the 10 other countries involved.

Consumers Union of Japan

1-9-19-207 Nishi-Waseda,

Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, Japan

Consumers Union of Japan (CUJ) is a politically and financially independent non-governmental organization (NGO). CUJ is funded by membership fees, sales of its publications and donations. CUJ was founded in April 1969 as Japan’s first nationwide grassroots consumer organization.

 

Soaring Cost of Vegetables Won’t End Soon

The soaring cost of vegetables is not about to end. I recently saw cabbage in the supermarket that was cut in quarters sold for 170 Yen, which is an unusually high price. Even at the Agricultural Co-operative store, where vegetables are sold directly to customers, most of the vegetables were small and off-colour. I could feel they had put a lot of effort into harvesting, but even there, the prices were higher than usual.

Turning on the TV, there was an interview with a seller at a bargain grocery shop, who said prices won’t come down soon. It is assumed that the reason is unusually bad weather, but I do not subscribe to that opinion. Instead, it seems there is something unbalanced in the structural model of demand and supply.

Regarding the so-called supply side, there is a decline in productivity. Farmers have already depended on foreign labour for quite some time. But industries like construction and the service sector are also increasingly hiring foreign labourers, thus squeezing the agricultural sector even further. As a consequence, the model of mass production, mass selling, and mass consumption has begun to malfunction.

Furthermore, the rapidly aging of farmers and agricultural workers means fewer people are involved in production. This has an immediate effect on markets, grocery stores and local restaurants that relies on local supply. In addition, there has been a sharp increase in the number of vacant houses in rural villages, showing how serious things have become. The entire production system might be close to collapse.

How about the demand side? Recently, the supermarket shelves with ready-cut vegetables have become a big thing. People seem to prefer not to spend time or effort preparing and cooking food. Are we getting to the point where robots will enter Japan’s food factories and do the work for us? So, what can be done? I think this is a problem the consumer movement will need to consider from now on.

By Ono Kazuoki, CUJ

January 16, 2018