Japan Animal Welfare Scandal: The Consumer Response


Consumers Union of Japan is protesting against the lack of public access to Japan’s Animal Welfare Opinion Exchange Meetings and problems with the way the meetings are being run.

Japan has not adopted modern rules for animal welfare, especially in the chicken and egg production. A scandal erupted as LDP politician and former agriculture minister Takamori Yoshikawa was found guilty of taking bribes from Akita Foods Co., an egg producer based in Hiroshima Prefecture. At the same time, Japan had opposed globally binding rules for egg production at the United Nation’s organization for animal health, OIE, where international standards are supposed to be agreed upon. The fallout from the scandal continued to grow as Koya Nishikawa, also a former farm minister, resigned as a special Cabinet adviser amid criticism over his own intimate ties with Akita Foods.

Yoshiki Akita, the former head of Akita Foods Co., was found guilty of bribery in October 2021 and given a suspended sentence. Mr. Nishikawa said that whenever Mr. Akita gave him money, he always asked for help, not just for Akita Foods, but for the domestic egg industry as a whole. According to the Asahi Newspaper, Mr. Nishikawa set up a meeting between Mr. Akita and Mr. Yoshikawa, when he was farm minister. Mr. Akita then asked Mr. Yoshikawa to help Japan’s poultry industry by ensuring the Japanese government would oppose the proposal at the United Nation level to improve animal welfare standards.

According to the Mainichi Newspaper, at the time Mr. Yoshikawa is said to have received the money, discussions were proceeding over the formulation of animal welfare standards requiring farm animals to be raised in stress-free settings. The Japanese egg farming industry was opposed to such a plan for international standards proposed by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). The former head of Akita Foods petitioned Mr. Yoshikawa for revisions to the OIE proposal and in January 2019 and again in July that year, Japan presented opinions opposing part of the OIE’s proposed standards.

Japan’s 1973 Act on Welfare and Management of Animals makes it a crime to kill, injure, or inflict cruelty on animals without due cause. But egg producers are still mainly sticking to old-fashioned methods, such as confining egg-laying hens to very cramped cages. This also involves using antibiotics and other drugs. 95.2% of eggs in Japan are from caged hens and there is little awareness of the availability of free-range eggs, according to Rob Harrison, Ethical Consumer, who has extensive knowledge of the situation in Japan.

Consumers Union of Japan was supposed to join an opinion exchange meeting about animal welfare at Japan’s Agriculture ministry (MAFF) but just days before the meeting in January 2022, it was announced that it would be closed to the public. After careful consideration, CUJ decided not to participate in such closed meetings anymore. Koketsu Michiyo, co-chairperson of CUJ writes in CUJ’s letter to the Japanese government:

As for the reason for keeping the Animal Welfare Opinion Exchange Meeting closed to the public, you say, “It is necessary to ensure a frank exchange of opinions among the committee members, and in order to hear frank opinions on issues in the field, it is also necessary to take into consideration concerns about the possibility of a ripple effect from the identification of the speakers. As the committee had decided to hold the meetings openly when it was reaching out to each committee member, the committee members would have accepted the request knowing that the meetings would be open to the public.”

The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) bears a heavy responsibility for unilaterally declaring the meeting closed to the public just before it was to be held. The MAFF response to CUJ states that “there will be a ripple effect from the identification of the speaker.” What kind of ripple effect are they concerned about? We should understand that a ripple effect would indeed occur if the public’s interest in animal welfare is that high. In addition, a summary of the meeting is just that, a summary, without the names of each speaker, and it cannot be said that transparency is being ensured.”

The Animal Welfare Opinion Exchange Meeting was established to verify
the fairness of the poultry and egg administration in response to the
indictment of former Minister Takamori Yoshikawa on bribery charges. It
is only natural that the meeting should be open to the public,” says Michiyo Koketsu, CUJ.

On 5 July 2022 both Michiyo Koketsu, CUJ and Kaori Yamane, Shufuren Association of Consumer Organizations resigned from the Animal Welfare Opinion Exchange Meeting to protest against the lack of public access to the meetings and problems with the way the meetings are being run.