Consumers Union of Japan works closely with a number of local groups around the country and abroad, to promote consumer rights, peace, food safety and food security and many other issues. Here are some recent stories from our office in Nishi-Waseda. Read more in Japanese in CUJ’s newsletter, Consumers Report. To receive the newsletter, please join CUJ by paying a yearly membership fee (7000 Yen). You can also download our English newsletter, Japan Resources, for free.
Japanese Consumers Demand Better Food Labelling System
325,125 people signed a petition demanding better food labelling rules in Japan. The signatures were collected by the No! GMO Campaign over a 6 month period, starting in the fall of 2009. This popular grass root movement strongly supports drastic changes to the current labelling system. An event was held on March 26, 2010 to submit the signatures to legislators at the House of Councilors of the Japanese Parliament in central Tokyo.
The main targets of the push for revised rules are:
1) The ingredients of processed foods should be covered by a traceability system to facilitate mandatory labelling;
2) All genetically modified (GM) foods and animal feed ingredients should be covered by the mandatory GM labelling system; and
3) Any food from cloned animals must be covered by a mandatory labelling system.
The background for these demands is that consumers want to improve the nation’s food self-sufficiency ratio and ensure that our food is safe and healthy. The many signatures confirm that this is a long-held desire of the consumers in Japan.
Many people took the opportunity to add their personal opinions to the petition. One consumer said, “Under the current labelling system, I can not be sure if I am choosing domestic foods or not.” “I want you to make sure that consumers have the right to know and the right to choose,” was another comment. Moreover, participants said, “We want processed foods to be clearly labeled if the ingredients come from GM plants, irregardless of whether there are proteins left in the food or not, just like in the European Union, where a traceability system has made it possible to introduce a comprehensive labelling system.”
This applies especially to food oils and soy sauce, which are currently not covered by Japan’s GM food labelling system, based on the reasoning that genetically modified organisms can not be detected in the final products: “Food manufacturers should not be unaware of what kind of raw material they are using. Not being able to detect DNA is no excuse for not labelling all GM foods.”
The No! GMO Campaign will continue to make every effort to appeal to the government to revise the food labelling system to secure the consumers’ right to choose.
Japanese Activists Hold Nationwide GMO Free Zone Meeting in Yuza
The fifth annual GMO Free Zone meeting with activists from all over Japan was held in Yuza, Yamagata prefecture on March 6, 2010. The goal of the nationwide movement is to create a world without genetically modified (GM) crops. Over 200 people attended the meeting.
This time, the theme was “Development of GMO Free Zones and biological diversity for regional agriculture,” because in October 2010, the tenth Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity and the fifth Meeting of the Parties of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety will be held in Nagoya, Japan.
We listened to a presentation by Phil Bereano, professor emeritus, University of Washington, who has participated since the start of the Cartagena Protocol negotiations. We also enjoyed the presentation by GMO Free Zone activists from South Korea’s nationwide Consumers’ Co-operative Group, who described their successful efforts to set up South Korea’s first GMO-free zone. This gave the meeting a rich international flavour.
In his keynote address, Keisuke Amagasa from the No! GMO Campaign in Japan described how expanded use of GMO pollutes the environment, causing damage to biological diversity and wildlife. He noted that in May, 2010, the Environmental Medical Science Association in the US issued its official opinion regarding GMOs, warning that there are serious health risks such as allergy, immune function, and pregnancy/childbirth, while also urging people to change their diet.
The total area of registered GMO-free zones in Japan has increased by more than 1,900 ha to reach approx. 55,536 ha as of February 28, 2010. This is equal to about 1 percent of the total area under cultivation in Japan. We concluded that this is actually a powerful grass root movement with the participation of both producers and consumers in the entire country.
A statement was adopted at the end of the meeting in Yuza: “Let’s change the destructive tide of GMOs that dominate the global food trade, with the aim to develop local and regional agriculture for safe food.”
(Photo from Seikatsu Club)
Another World Food Day
October 16 is designated by the United Nation as “World Food Day.” However, there are still over one billion people who suffer from hunger, although the UN has worked since 1961 to eradicate hunger from the world. In 2008, Japan’s nationwide No! GMO Campaign held “Another World Food Day” events, heeding the call from Pesticide Action Network Asia Pacific (PANAP).
Again on October 16, 2009, we held a big meeting to celebrate rice in Tokyo, Japan. The theme of our 2009 Another World Food Day was “Let’s make and eat rice with happiness!”
During this event, we learnt about the severe problems of rice in Asia and Japan. Maki-san from the Teikei Rice Network said: “The daily average consumption of rice has decreased to about half in Japan. Rice fields also have been reduced by 50%. We are entrusting rice farming to people who are now 70 years old or older, with non-commercial farm households. We will not know how to farm rice in the future.”
Tasaka-san from Pesticide Action Network Japan discussed in detail how the so-called “green revolution” had a negative influence on rice farming around Asia. He noted that a huge amount of agricultural chemicals were introduced as a way to get higher yields. He was critical of IRRI, the International Rice Research Institute in The Philippines, which was actively promoting raising production in this dramatic way, but the real effects are an increase in harmful insects and loss of biological diversity – a loss of rice varieties.
During the event, we heard reports from city residents and young people who enjoy rice making. There were also many examples of people who have managed to find ways to maintain and develop abandoned terraced paddy fields, growing both rice and vegetables. Of particular interest were the reports from people working on winter rice fields in projects to promote habitats for tsuru, the Japanese crane, a large migrating bird. This was an excellent example of how farming can contribute to biological diversity.
The event was of course not all talk – we also enjoyed onigiri (handmade rice balls) and chiffon cake made with rice flour for dessert.
Rice Paddies Trust Movement—Rice Farming With Ducks!
We held an event on May 16, 2009 to plant rice as part of the Aigamo Rice Paddies Trust Movement in Ibaraki prefecture, north of Tokyo. Rice farming with ducks has emerged as a way to produce rice without agricultural chemicals or commercial fertilizers, or with much reduced amounts. The Agaimo ducks swim freely in the paddies, eating weeds and insects that may otherwise harm the rice plants. This way of farming has attracted a lot of attention because it is gentle also to people and the environment as well.
During the event, some 60 participants from the metropolitan area and Tokyo joined the Trust Movement, helping to plant rice. The ducklings were released into the paddies about two weeks after birth on this day. After enjoying lunch together, we introduced the Year of Rice Action and Week of Rice Action held in 13 Asian countries including Japan.
We also discussed the various campaign activities against genetically modified rice, with updates on the prospects of GM rice being introduced in Asian markets.
This event by Japan’s Rice Paddies Trust Movement – rice farming with ducks – was part of our contribution to the Asia-wide campaign aimed at protecting and saving rice as our most precious food.