Category Archives: Food Security

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

Japan Resources – No 169

Please click here CUJ-JR-169 for the latest issue of Japan Resources, our English newsletter.

In this issue we introduce our new campaign against genome-manipulated food, part of our strong resistance against GMOs in general. Field trials have started even though the government is slow to act to protect consumers or farmers. The debate about nuclear power is also high-lighted with Monju, the controversial fast-breeder reactor in Fukui Prefecture in the news.

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: Resistance and Resilience
Campaign Against Genome-manipulated Food
Press Release: Appeal for World Food Day
Food Security: Japan’s Self-sufficiency Rate for Sesame Seed Only 0.1%
Is the Consumer Agency in Fact the Industry Agency?
Pluto and Monju
News Flash: Monju Reactor Set for Decommissioning Lacks Sodium Removal Method

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

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

Supporting Japanese Non-GM Soybeans

Consumers Union of Japan and the No! GMO Campaign are working together to support Japanese farmers who want to grow more soybeans for domestic consumption. On February 23, 2016, the 18th annual meeting of the Soybean Trust Movement was held in Jiyugaoka, Tokyo as a way for consumers and farmers to meet and discuss the many issues involved.

soybean_trust_movement_japan_shumei_natural_farm_networkIn 1996, the first genetically modified soybeans were imported to Japan from North America. This led to the formation of the Soybean Trust Movement as a way to counter the threat to Japanese traditional foods like tofu, miso and soy sauce that are made from soybeans. The aim is to increase Japan’s food self-sufficiency rate for this important source of protein and nutrients.

Ms. Setsuko Yasuda from the 21st Century Food Policy Vision spoke about the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement and new risks to food, while Keisuke Amagasa from the No! GMO Campaign made a presentation about the current status of GM foods and agriculture. Osamu Tsuchida from Tokyo Shinbun discussed the “land grab” problems associated with the plans that Japan’s government has to promote soybean farming in Mozambique.

Currently, the United States has just approved GM salmon, and there are new issues involving Du Pont’s controversial techniques to edit the genome. This could make it possible to bypass the legislation for older ways to genetically modify living organisms and GM food. On the other hand, there is an increasingly strong movement in the US to make labelling of GM foods mandatory. Here in Asia, we have recently learnt that Taiwan decided to ban GM foods in school lunches while also introducing stricter GM labelling rules.

A delightful lunch was served with organic soybeans from the Shumei Natural Farm Network (E). Clearly, growing soybeans is no easy task, and more efforts are needed to make more consumers aware of this important movement in Japan.

By Yoko Sugiura, CUJ