Tag Archives: Environment

Biodiversity In The News: Anything Useful from G20 Japan 2019 Niigata, Agriculture Ministers’ Meeting on May 11 to 12, 2019?

At the G7 environment ministers’ meeting in France this weekend, The Guardian reported that there was a call for a biodiversity study that is as influential as the Stern review on the economics of climate change. Yes, there is an “economic case” for understanding the value of biological diversity to mankind, and to the planet. But we expect much more from researchers and experts, from governments and corporations. CUJ is opposed to GMOs and the new genome editing technologies, that ignore and threaten the age-old development of species. We expect a full reversal of the free trade economic agreements that promote globalisation without a thought of its effect at the local level.

Small scale farmers need markets to reach consumers, and consumers need to know where their food is coming from. CUJ is calling for food and goods that are “locally made, locally consumed” and we continue to fight for biological diversity that is not subject to multinational corporations and WTO rules with patent provisions that make seed saving impossible.

At the G20 Japan 2019 Niigata, Agriculture Ministers’ Meeting on May 11 to 12, 2019, what policies will be discussed?

https://www.japan.go.jp/g20japan/niigata.html

No recent mention of biodiversity, or climate change. Is that not just a little too outrageous, or what do you think…? You’d have to go back to 2016 to find a pdf document that discusses “Basic Concept of Climate Change Adaptation on Biodiversity in Japan” from the Ministry of the Environment.

Quote: At the summit of Mount Fuji, seed plants have been observed that were not previously present, and mosses whose growth is affected by permafrost have been in decline.

But, yes, there is positive news a too. And a lot of it. Here is a quote from Japan Environment Quarterly, March 2019 (pdf):

Quote: Humans form a part of biodiversity as well as a part of the natural environment. Rather than living in opposition to the natural environment, which can both deliver great bounty and at times pose great threats, we could live in harmony, which would enable us to make the most of the resources of nature. For instance, the city of Toyooka in Hyogo Prefecture has designated the stork as the symbol of its initiatives. Based on rice grown via “the stork friendly farming method”, the city has increased the income of farmers. This rice grown without relying on pesticides and chemical fertilizers is sold at a price 1.3 to 1.6 times that of conventionally-grown rice. Additionally, the city has employed ecotourism in initiatives on returning storks to the wild. Teaming up with local travel agents, the city has proposed “stork tourism” that combine viewing of storks and local scenic spots. Visitors to the city’s Museum of the Oriental White Stork, where one can get a close look at storks, have roughly tripled following release of the storks into the wild.

MAFF will hold another meeting as part of the G20 in Biwa on May 13-15, 2019.

But nobody from the active NGOs in Japan, with a long history of working on these issues since the 1960s, 1970s, are invited. Business as usual? Japan, you can do better.

 

Youth Strike for Climate Change Movement Reaches Japan

On March 15, 2019 a campaign to demonstrate against the lack of action to stop climate change will hold events around the world. Here in Japan, events are planned at Yoyogi Park, Tokyo (15:00) and at the City Hall in Kyoto (12:00-1300).  Again, on March 22 a demonstration will be held outside the Japanese Parliament Building in Tokyo (start 15:00). Bring your own plackard!

(Photo from the February 22, 2019 demonstration in Tokyo)

Read more here: Youth strike for climate change movement reaches Japan

Fridays for Future Japan (Facebook)

CUJ Public Comment about Genome Editing Techniques for Food

On February 21, 2019, Consumers Union of Japan submitted the following public comment in response to the Japanese government’s GM Food, etc. Investigative Panel of the Pharmaceutical Affairs and Food Sanitation Council, Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) regarding the handling of food modified by genome editing.

Consumers Union of Japan is working for a sound and healthy future for all. This is why we are active in protecting our surrounding environment and the safety of our daily food. We believe this is what the Japanese government also wants. However, there are reports that the government has concluded that the Food Sanitation Law will not apply to food obtained through genome editing, thus giving up the important focus to protect the environment while also protecting food safety. CUJ finds this unacceptable. Therefore, we request that you withdraw the report and redo the deliberation from the beginning.

These are our reasons:

  1. It is not possible to avoid off target influence and mosaic effects through genome editing. There are numerous studies that confirm this. The current conclusion contradicts data about such influences and effects by treating them in an overly optimistic way. After a serious change has occurred it will be too late to take action.
  2. Through genome editing, epigenetic changes (heritable changes in gene expressions) have been reported to take place, something you hardly mention in your report. We can’t help wondering if you are simply imagining that such a problem cannot happen.
  3. When inserting genes, and then removing them during the crossing stages, we assume that regulation is required. But even if the introduced genes are removed, there is no guarantee that they have been removed 100%, and that there does not remain any influence. Moreover, we have not heard that any safety studies have been done to make sure that such practices actually work as intended or that safety can be secured. We have big misgivings about the advancement of such technologies while the scientific basis appear to be so weak.
  4. The process of dealing with this by the Food Sanitation Law was compared to the safety examination of genetically modified food. Genome editing is also a genetic technology, but it differs fundamentally from DNA recombination technologies. Many more and various new vegetable or plant breeding experiments will now take place. New legal restrictions are needed for this. We cannot accept that no effort will be made to maintain the safety of our food supply by the government’s current policy approach.
  5. The Food Sanitation Law has a huge influence also on how food is labelled. If the labelling requirements are affected by the current conclusion, and no labelling is required, it will remove the consumer’s right to know and choose. This is a large and important responsibility for the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare.

 

Consumers Union of Japan

Nishi Waseda 1-9-19-207

Shinjuku-Ku, Tokyo

Japan 169-0051

 

Concerns About Japan’s MagLev Train Project

Consumers Union of Japan went on a field trip to investigate the current problems surrounding the massive project to build a MagLev superconductive train system (known as “Linear” in Japanese). Before the trip, we talked to our guide, the director of Gauss Network, Mr. Kakehi Tetsuo, an expert on magnetic field radiation issues.

These are some of the main concerns:

The system selected to run Japan’s Central Shinkansen MagLev train is to use refrigerated liquid helium at minus 269 C and make the resistance or impedance zero. This is based on superconducting magnets. But there is a possibility that the cooling system will fail. This abnormal termination is known as “magnet quench” and would certainly lead to accidents. For example, the high speed train may hit the walls of the tunnels. There are no examples of such a superconducting system having any practical use anywhere in the world.

The amount of energy needed for this supercooling apparatus is immense. As much as 3.5 times as much energy is needed compared to running one of the current, traditional Shinkansen trains, and it could be more according to some experts. They will need at least an extra nuclear plant just to provide the electricity.

A very strong magnetic field around the train will be generated by such a system. We assume that there will be some kind of shield or screen to protect the passengers. However, in March 2018, Mr. Atsushi Yamada, a Kofu City Council Member, measured 300 Milligauss during a test ride. It is thought that levels above 2-3 Milligauss can be dangerous, so that is indeed a very high number.

The tunnel being planned through Japan’s Southern Alps will destroy the pristine nature of the local area. A large amount of rock and soil must be disposed of. We can expect large-scale environmental destruction, landslides and contamination of water, rivers and wells. Already, such changes in the ecosystem have been observed during the preparations for construction. The final disposal site for the estimated 56,800,000 square meters of tunnel excavation debris has not been decided. What valley or wetland will it all be buried at?

We know that passenger numbers on the current, traditional Shinkansen, the Tokaido Line, have already peaked. We know that the population of Japan will continue to decrease. We know that there is no real demand for this, and no profit to be expected, yet tax money is being invested.

Update: Bhutan Organic Rice Project

The project to explore ways to help farmers in Bhutan switch to organic farming methods is progressing. This is an update by Mitsukuni Inaba (Director of Civil Institute of Organic Rice Cultivation) and Koa Tasaka (Co-chair of CUJ and board member of Asian Rural Institute) from their visit on May 28 – June 4, 2017.

Rice farming in paddy fields means weeds may be growing in the water before the rice is transplanted into the soil. Removing the weeds by hand tools, such as a rake, or machines rather than by using chemical herbicides is a requirement for organic rice farming. In Bhutan the prevalent weed is called Shouchum (Pondweed, Lat. Potamogeon). Flooding the paddy fields repeatedly will assist in removing the weeds, as they float to the surface after careful raking. On May 29 and May 30, Mr Inaba led the effort to flood two experimental fields for a third time together with Bhutan farmers and Japanese volunteers, and remove the weeds. Transplanting the seedlings was possible at the first farm, and organic fertilizer was applied to promote the growth of the rice plants as well as to suppress the weeds.

bhutan organic consumers union of japan

On June 1, the group visited the Bajo Seed Center. At their paddy fields, a lot of Shouchum grows and is usually removed with Butachlor, a synthetic herbicide that is known to be toxic. “At first, I was overwhelmed by the strong power of the native weed, Shouchum, which had grown so rapidly, and thought it would be very difficult to remove it,” notes Mr Inaba. “However, after watching them for a while I came up with a new idea: To plow them into the soil! Then, under the anaerobic condition, the weeds will be fermented and produce large amounts of butyric acid which will damage the bulb of Shouchum and the roots of other weeds as well. In this way, all the weeds would be suppressed effectively.”

Transplantation was done the following day. “We were amazed at the excellent operation by a Bhutan operator,” says Mr Inaba. “The operation of the transplanting machine is difficult, but he managed with great success.” Three types of rice were transplanted: A Japanese variety called Sasanishiki, and a local rice variety grown either in a regular nursery bed or in a pot-type nursery bed. Concludes Mr Inaba: “Many people participated in this activity of transplantation, and we feel enormous gratitude to those who joined us! At the next visit, we will check on the success or failure of the three types of young rice plants, the growth at an early stage, and the tilling situation, and look for the condition and possibility of a stable good yield.”

The next visit will be in the beginning of July, 2017, with a focus on weed control and preparation for soy bean planting. The project is supported by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). Read more here (E).

Representatives-during-the-signing-of-Japan-International-Cooperation-Agency-JICA-Partnership-Project