Category Archives: Chemical pollution

How to Reduce the Use of Plastics?

A world-wide debate about the dangers of plastic pollution has led to the introduction of stricter laws in many countries. Japan seems to lag behind so far, but consumers can start reducing the use of plastics in many ways. Many people already bring their cloth bags to the supermarket when you go shopping. In some shops, you get a 2 Yen reduction on the price, but if everyone was serious about it, and the amount raised to 10 Yen or even more, the effect would be immediate.

In the Sugiura household, we tried to reduce the amount of plastic wrapping for food. It wasn’t an immediate success as not everyone went along with the plan. However, little steps can have remarkable consequences. Consumers Union of Japan is asking readers and members to contribute with their own creative proposals.

Essay: The Bizarre World of Plastics

When plastic materials were first discovered, they were brittle and fragile. Thus, a number of additives and “plasticizers” were introduced to counter the effects of ultraviolet light and make the materials more flexible and useful. Flame retardants were introduced as well. By the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s, plastic pollution intensified. Plastic materials must be disposed of, making the garbage problem severe. In Tokyo, the toxic air pollution from the Yume-no-shima incinerators created health problems as increasing amounts of trash were thrown away by consumers.

No thought went into what would happen to plastic materials that were left in the environment. The degradation takes time. Plastic materials basically just turn into smaller plastic fragments. It becomes an invisible danger as animals ingest the fragments, even entering the human food chain. In spite of this, the makers of plastic materials, including Showa Denko, Mitsubishi Chemical, BASF and Du Pont, claim that their novel products are bio-degradable. This has led to the rather bizarre state of the world we are now facing, where the idea that plastics can simply be thrown away has been increasingly promoted.

By Amagasa Keisuke, CUJ

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.

Campaign Against Artificial Fragrances

In recent years, there are an increasing number of people who are feeling sick because of artificial fragrances such as fabric softeners, deodorant sprays and antiperspirants. People feel that it is difficult to get on the train, as people wash their clothes but do not dry them outdoors properly. But some people also react to the strong smell of laundry hanging on verandas in their neighborhoods.

There are reports of various symptoms, including nausea, feeling irritated, coughing, eye trouble, sneezing, heart pounding, and headaches.

Consumers Union of Japan strongly believes we need to make sure that people are not put in harm’s way by unnecessary artificial fragrance products.

We are stepping up our campaign by opening a phone line for complaints and consultation on July 26 and August 1 (in Japanese only). We do wish to hear from everyone living in Japan so please send us an email with your concerns and experiences, in English.

Email: office.w (at mark) nishoren.org

Organic Rice for School Lunch: Healthy Kids, Healthy Community

Isumi City in Chiba prefecture, east of Tokyo, has announced that it would be the first in Japan to serve locally grown organic rice at the city’s elementary and junior high schools throughout 2017. The project started in 2015 when they partly managed to serve locally grown organic rice. Two years have passed, and now they are ready to substitute all the rice for organic rice produced in Isumi City.

It is only school lunch, but it still matters. In a year, a student (elementary or junior high school) will eat more than 180 meals at school. Supposing that rice is served 4 times a week, the student is at least served 150 bowls of rice yearly. As children are more susceptible to toxic substances, locally grown organic rice for public school lunch is a big step to protect children from being exposed to chemicals. Besides, the city says, the program is highly regarded by the parents.

Isumi farmers are encouraged to grow organic rice, which is supporting biological diversity, while affecting all age groups in the community positively. The school year starts in April. At the end of March 2018, we hope that they will carry out the pledge and celebrate their new policy of serving locally grown rice for school lunch.

By Kaori Hirouchi

Read more in Japanese here (pdf)