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
In 1962 for the first time, consumer rights were advocated by President Kennedy in the US. Here in Japan, we had just entered the era when slogans such as “consumption is a virtue” became popular. In 1980, the International Organization of Consumers Unions (IOCU, now known as Consumers International) developed the idea further by establishing eight fundamental consumer rights. They are:
1 Right to Basic Needs
2 Right to Safety
3 Right to Information
4 Right to Choose
5 Right to Representation
6 Right to Redress
7 Right to Consumer Education
8 Right to a Healthy Environment
Currently, we are in the final stages of the debate about improving the GMO labelling system in Japan. We regard information about which foods are genetically manipulated to be an important and fundamental consumer right.
However, Japan’s ruling party and the government do not seem to like this concept of “consumer rights.” In Umeda Masami’s book, The History of Japanese Nationalism, he explains how in 1982, the Education Ministry’s textbook for writing changed its recommendation from “Do not use this term” to “Write like this.” For example, “consumer rights” was no longer recommended, and instead, “consumer life” should be used. Other official recommendations were also made, including terms for writing about defense and the atomic bomb. Seen in this light, it becomes clear that the government dislikes the idea that consumers have rights, and we can understand why this concept is being systematically neglected.
By Amagasa Keisuke, CUJ
January 22, 2018
Controversial new genetic engineering technologies are being explored by researchers. Many doubts remain and the critics want a ban or a moratorium, especially on gene editing on human embryos. There is strong concern about letting out animals or insects, like mosquitos, into the wild. Genetically modified mosquitos are in fact only one of the first in a long line of projects. For example, genome editing and gene drives can be used to eradicate entire populations of animals. There are “terminator” projects underway to alter cattle so that only male offspring are born. No females. It is not difficult to imagine that it would become possible to do the same with certain groups of humans.
Now we are learning the scary truth about the secret financial backing for gene drives and other forms of genome editing. In early December, 2017 activists at Third World Network could reveal emails reporting how the US military is the top funding agency, having spent 100 million US dollar on gene drive research. The emails show that the shadowy US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is the key funder of efforts to develop gene drive mice. Also, lobbying funding has come from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
“Gene drives are a powerful and dangerous new technology and potential biological weapons could have disastrous impacts on peace, food security and the environment, especially if misused,” said Jim Thomas of ETC Group. Dana Perls of Friends of the Earth, U.S. notes: “Gene drives could have profound ecological, health and socio-economic impacts.” It makes a lot of sense to step up our campaign against these dangerous technologies. I’m proud of Consumers Union of Japan for taking the lead in this battle. We need more people and consumers to become aware of this difficult issue.
ETC Group: The Gene Drive Files
MIT Technology Review: Meet the Woman Using CRISPR to Breed All-Male “Terminator Cattle”
IFOAM: The global organic food and farming movement calls for the regulation of new genetic engineering techniques as GMOs
Nature.com: CRISPR, the disruptor
(English version of Martin’s essay published in CUJ’s Shouhisha Report No. 1605, January 2018)