Category Archives: Biodiversity

Food Security: Japan’s Self-sufficiency Rate for Sesame Seed Only 0.1%

One of the main pillars of Consumers Union of Japan is that we care deeply about food safety, which is connected to food security issues. We constantly try to monitor food production and are concerned about how things are developing or rather, deteriorating. Sometimes, we are taken by surprise. So, when I read in the newsletter from the Kansai-based Yotsuba Group that Japan’s self-sufficiency rate for sesame seed has dropped to 0.1%, well, it turned out to be one of many such cases.

The main place for growing sesame seed is a small island called Kikaijima in Kagoshima prefecture, in southern Japan, part of the Amami Islands. Their white sesame is a local variety that accounts for around 70% of Japan’s total domestic sesame seed production. But, for several years, abnormal weather and especially rain from typhoons have wrecked havoc on the small island’s farms, due to global climate change. Volcanic activity nearby has also brought unusual levels of ash to the fields. Taken together, domestic sesame seed farming in Japan is currently in great danger.

Another example is the small citrus fruit called sudachi in Japanese (which is also grown in Peru). Just like sesame, this is an important ingredient in Japanese traditional cooking. But when I checked, the farmers tell me many of them are getting too old to continue growing this special product. Also, there are places where tea will no longer be grown unless efforts are made to seriously support local and regional farms as well as the companies that bring such wonderful gifts to the market. This is a serious issue we call “food security” which is fundamental when we start discussing “food safety” and other concerns. Consumers Union of Japan continues to be at the forefront of the debate to resolve these important issues.

By Ono Kazuoki, CUJ

December 18, 2017

Press Release: Appeal for World Food Day

Our goal is a world with no genetically modified foods and an end to the multinational corporate control of the global food supply

October 16 is the World Food Day, as designated by the United Nations. The aim is to combat hunger and promote agriculture, while the forces that makes this difficult to achieve are having the opposite results. Regional conflicts and nationalism are increasing poverty. We are especially concerned about the concentration of economic resources into the hands of just a few corporations that control the global economy. At the same time, governments have embarked on EPAs and FTAs that ignores public opinion and lead to more division in society.

In just the past 12 months, the worst case scenario has become reality, with multinational agribusiness takeovers and mergers, much as we predicted over 20 years ago. This is a de facto monopoly over the global seed supply and cannot be accepted. How are we as consumers and farmers supposed to react to Bayer taking over Monsanto, while DuPont merged with Dow, and Syngenta was purchased by a ChemChina, the Chinese chemical company, except to oppose it? Our health and freedom to farm and purchase food that we can trust will now be completely at mercy of these few multinational corporations that control genetically modified crops through DNA patent rules and global agreements on intellectual property rights and other strong-arm tactics.

At the same time, this year we learned that genetically modified salmon has been approved in North America in spite of protests. This is the first GM animal to be sold as food. If this is acceptable, where does it lead us next? New GM technologies such as genome editing and RNA interference are also increasingly being promoted. Examples include canola and potatoes developed with these new GM techniques.

As if this is not enough, in April 2017 the Japanese government suddenly abolished the 1952 Seed Law, after multinational corporations engaged in the seed business complained that the publicly funded seed program hindered their attempts to expand their business. After only a few hours of deliberation at the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Committees of the Parliament, the new Seed Law bill was passed without any concern for the possible impacts on our agriculture and food systems. Instead, we maintain that the trend to undermine Japan’s public seed program for major crops should be stopped. We should ensure that the national and local governments will remain involved in the seed program as an essential part of our food security policy.

We have clear evidence that agriculture as promoted by multinational corporations are destroying the health of citizens, in particular children. It has been admitted that agricultural chemicals are the main cause of allergies, which are becoming increasingly common, and evidence from the United States show that children’s development is impaired by such residue in food. The most serious problem is GM foods as their introduction 20 years ago has led to a drastic increase in the amount of toxic glyphosate used and consumed. However, the Japanese government keeps changing the allowed residue levels leading to higher levels of pesticides and herbicides, even relaxing the standard for glyphosate as recently as July, 2017. We need to radically change the current thinking about agriculture and get rid of dangerous chemicals from our food supply.

We believe in expansion of agriculture that is small-scale and organic, with local production for local consumption, within an international framework that connects citizens around the world. Co-operation is the basis for world peace. Furthermore, we believe that World Food Day should stand for agriculture without harmful chemicals, allowing no genetically modified or genome edited foods. We will continue to fight against multinational corporations and their systems that lead to hunger and malnutrition.

October 16, 2017

Consumers Union of Japan

No! GMO Campaign

Japan Resources – No 168

Please click here CUJ-JR-168 for the latest issue of Consumer Union of Japan’s English newsletter, Japan Resources (PDF).

In this issue we share articles about our recent activities. During the summer, we started a campaign against artificial fragrances, an irritant for many as corporate profit comes before consumers’ concerns. On the international front, while Japan is trying to revive the controversial TPP agreement, it has also announced progress regarding the economic partnership with the European Union. It is hard not to reach the conclusion that Japan’s government is making a calculated choice to keep ignoring citizens and consumers.

We hope you will continue to stay updated with CUJ’s activities and news on our English website, and support our campaigns!

Contents:

From the Editors: Ignoring Consumers
Consumers in Japan and Europe want Guarantees for a Positive Trade Agreement
Campaign against Artificial Fragrances
GM Food Awareness Survey Conducted by Japan’s Consumer Affairs Agency
Newsflash: Nagoya Protocol Ratified
Event: International Film Festival on Organic Farming

Please download the attached PDF file or read it on our English website.

Japan Resources – No 167

Please click here CUJ-JR-167 for the latest issue of Consumer Union of Japan’s English newsletter, Japan Resources (PDF). This time we focus on healthy, organic food and farming, while taking a stand against PM Abe and his ruling coalition, that has rammed through controversial legislation, bill after bill, threatening our civil rights.

We hope you will continue to stay updated with CUJ’s activities and news on our English website, and support our campaigns!

Contents:

From the Editors: Stop the Abe Train!

Organic Rice for School Lunch

Update: Bhutan Organic Rice Project

Street Events with the “Moms’ Project to Change our Food in Japan!”

Event: The International Day for Biological Diversity

Organic Lifestyle Expo

Statement: Reject the Anti-Conspiracy Bill

Update: Bhutan Organic Rice Project

The project to explore ways to help farmers in Bhutan switch to organic farming methods is progressing. This is an update by Mitsukuni Inaba (Director of Civil Institute of Organic Rice Cultivation) and Koa Tasaka (Co-chair of CUJ and board member of Asian Rural Institute) from their visit on May 28 – June 4, 2017.

Rice farming in paddy fields means weeds may be growing in the water before the rice is transplanted into the soil. Removing the weeds by hand tools, such as a rake, or machines rather than by using chemical herbicides is a requirement for organic rice farming. In Bhutan the prevalent weed is called Shouchum (Pondweed, Lat. Potamogeon). Flooding the paddy fields repeatedly will assist in removing the weeds, as they float to the surface after careful raking. On May 29 and May 30, Mr Inaba led the effort to flood two experimental fields for a third time together with Bhutan farmers and Japanese volunteers, and remove the weeds. Transplanting the seedlings was possible at the first farm, and organic fertilizer was applied to promote the growth of the rice plants as well as to suppress the weeds.

bhutan organic consumers union of japan

On June 1, the group visited the Bajo Seed Center. At their paddy fields, a lot of Shouchum grows and is usually removed with Butachlor, a synthetic herbicide that is known to be toxic. “At first, I was overwhelmed by the strong power of the native weed, Shouchum, which had grown so rapidly, and thought it would be very difficult to remove it,” notes Mr Inaba. “However, after watching them for a while I came up with a new idea: To plow them into the soil! Then, under the anaerobic condition, the weeds will be fermented and produce large amounts of butyric acid which will damage the bulb of Shouchum and the roots of other weeds as well. In this way, all the weeds would be suppressed effectively.”

Transplantation was done the following day. “We were amazed at the excellent operation by a Bhutan operator,” says Mr Inaba. “The operation of the transplanting machine is difficult, but he managed with great success.” Three types of rice were transplanted: A Japanese variety called Sasanishiki, and a local rice variety grown either in a regular nursery bed or in a pot-type nursery bed. Concludes Mr Inaba: “Many people participated in this activity of transplantation, and we feel enormous gratitude to those who joined us! At the next visit, we will check on the success or failure of the three types of young rice plants, the growth at an early stage, and the tilling situation, and look for the condition and possibility of a stable good yield.”

The next visit will be in the beginning of July, 2017, with a focus on weed control and preparation for soy bean planting. The project is supported by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). Read more here (E).

Representatives-during-the-signing-of-Japan-International-Cooperation-Agency-JICA-Partnership-Project