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From the Editors: Growing Movement
Exposing Fragrance Pollution in Japan
Violating Consumers’ Right to Know and Choose
From the Editors: Growing Movement
Welcome to issue No. 185 of Consumers Union of Japan’s English newsletter. The theme of this issue is “Exposing Fragrance Pollution in Japan” where we discuss the problem and the growing movement trying to deal with it. CUJ and other organisations have been acting as a principal driver of the movement for the last several years.
We also have an update on the Japanese government’s assault on consumers’ right to know and choose, as it moves to make certain popular, and useful, food labels illegal, including GMO-free labels.
We hope you will stay updated with CUJ’s activities and news on our English website, as well as on our English Twitter account:
By Michiyo Koketsu, Co-Chairperson, Consumers Union of Japan
In Japan, the food labeling system has been undergoing continuous deterioration over the past several years. How is it that the government has gone from leaving consumers scratching their heads over unclear labels, to violating our right to know and choose? It all started in 2015, when the food labeling system, which previously fell under a number of jurisdictions, was consolidated into the Food Labeling Law and placed under the Consumer Affairs Agency. They promptly established study groups to discuss the labeling of the origin of ingredients in processed foods, the labeling of food additives, and the labeling of genetically modified foods, but neither took into account the demands proposed by Consumers Union of Japan (CUJ). The Consumer Affairs Agency has ignored our calls for a better labeling system for consumers while making the labeling system convenient for corporations.
Continue reading Violating Consumers’ Right to Know and Choose
Opinion on the Japanese Government’s Draft Guidelines on Non-use Labeling of Food Additives
Consumers Union of Japan (CUJ) is opposed to the “Draft Guidelines on the Non-use Labeling of Food Additives.”
Consumers are demanding foods with fewer food additives. However, due to the inadequacy of the current food additive labeling system, it is difficult to avoid food additives even if one wants to avoid eating them as much as possible. On the other hand, some companies are making efforts to produce and provide foods without additives as much as possible to respond to consumers’ voices, which is why they label their products as “additive-free” (無添加 mutenka) as well as non-use. It is admitted that there are some inappropriate labels, but one problem is that the labeling principle of listing the names of substances in order of weight is not being followed. Therefore, we would like to request the government to discuss the establishment of a food labeling system that protects consumers’ right to know and choose, rather than to formulate guidelines in a hasty manner.
(1) It is the consumer’s right to know the non-use of food additives
For consumers who seek foods with less food additives, non-use labeling is information that contributes to product selection.
(2) Guidelines that are vague and susceptible to broad interpretation are harmful
Many of the definitions of the proposed categories are vague and unfounded, and may be interpreted broadly, which may practically lead to the prohibition of all additive-free and non-use labeling. Such a situation is not what consumers want.
(3) Food additives should be discussed based on the precautionary principle, not as something safe
The guidelines are based on the assumption that food additives are safe if they are below the ADI (Acceptable Daily Intake) set by the Food Safety Commission, but the current evaluation method has its limitations. In addition to properly acknowledging these limitations, the government should instruct businesses to reduce food additives in accordance with the precautionary principle, and labeling should be able to convey the reduction of food additives.
(4) Improvement of food additive labeling system should be reconsidered from consumers’ point of view
In the recent debate on the review of food labeling, only the opinions of the industry have been respected, and the inadequate labeling system has not been improved, but it has become a setback for consumers. We strongly request that the review panel should be fundamentally reviewed and the food additive labeling system should be re-examined based on the opinions of consumers.
Processed foods are an indispensable part of most consumers’ daily diet. They are convenient, but in fact, they contain many food additives. There are many problems with additives, such as concerns about their safety, or the fact that they are used in Japan even though they are banned in other countries. The booklet consists of two parts: “Basics” which introduces the actual situation of food additives, and “Individual Foods” which summarizes what is used and what are the problems in individual foods. Please keep this booklet at hand and take the first step toward a diet that reduces additives. It is also an ideal textbook for study groups.
Price: 500 Yen
Order here (PDF)
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