Much of CUJ’s work takes place in our working groups. They are the way for interested members to push for campaigns on a range of topics. The working groups are important for our office staff as a source of knowledge and inspiration for further action. Now we have started a new working group to focus on environmental issues. What kind of issues? Well, that is a good question.
At the first meeting, among the suggestions we are currently considering are microplastics, the construction of the “linear” maglev train between Nagoya and Tokyo, electromagnetic radiation, agricultural practices, and energy production (especially electricity/nuclear power) and “local production/local consumption” and its related challenges in an increasingly globalized world.
The blackout all over Hokkaido after the earthquake in September highlighted the multiple uncertainties regarding Japan’s energy system. The concentration of electric power to a single large unit has been identified as the culprit. More people are beginning to understand the benefit of “local production/local consumption” which has been a guiding principle for our work at CUJ. On the other hand, the debate has also begun regarding importing electricity from Honshu, or even from foreign countries. We need to counter such proposals by demanding that pollution and waste of energy should be factored into the debate.
At our first meeting, a college student with an interest in agricultural systems participated. We are hoping that the discussion will lead to concrete proposals how we can create “local production/local consumption” in this vital area, and confront the globalization of food. There are many other issues as well, and we invite people to become members and participate in this new working group.
Fact sheet from Consumers Union of Japan
In September 2018, CUJ participated in the GMO Free Europe Conference in Berlin, Germany. One of the big topics right now is genome editing, which has called the applicability of the current regulatory framework for Genetically Modified Organisms into question. We published this fact sheet to inform others around the world about the debate in Japan.
Click here to download the pdf file.
A world-wide debate about the dangers of plastic pollution has led to the introduction of stricter laws in many countries. Japan seems to lag behind so far, but consumers can start reducing the use of plastics in many ways. Many people already bring their cloth bags to the supermarket when you go shopping. In some shops, you get a 2 Yen reduction on the price, but if everyone was serious about it, and the amount raised to 10 Yen or even more, the effect would be immediate.
In the Sugiura household, we tried to reduce the amount of plastic wrapping for food. It wasn’t an immediate success as not everyone went along with the plan. However, little steps can have remarkable consequences. Consumers Union of Japan is asking readers and members to contribute with their own creative proposals.
Essay: The Bizarre World of Plastics
When plastic materials were first discovered, they were brittle and fragile. Thus, a number of additives and “plasticizers” were introduced to counter the effects of ultraviolet light and make the materials more flexible and useful. Flame retardants were introduced as well. By the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s, plastic pollution intensified. Plastic materials must be disposed of, making the garbage problem severe. In Tokyo, the toxic air pollution from the Yume-no-shima incinerators created health problems as increasing amounts of trash were thrown away by consumers.
No thought went into what would happen to plastic materials that were left in the environment. The degradation takes time. Plastic materials basically just turn into smaller plastic fragments. It becomes an invisible danger as animals ingest the fragments, even entering the human food chain. In spite of this, the makers of plastic materials, including Showa Denko, Mitsubishi Chemical, BASF and Du Pont, claim that their novel products are bio-degradable. This has led to the rather bizarre state of the world we are now facing, where the idea that plastics can simply be thrown away has been increasingly promoted.
By Amagasa Keisuke, CUJ
Consumers Union of Japan has been active in the debate about regulation of GMOs since the mid 1990 and firmly believe the new technologies, such as gene editing, must be strictly regulated. CUJ’s stance is that any such experiments should be stopped to avoid serious adverse effects on human health and the environment.
August 21, 2018 (Mainichi Japan)
TOKYO — Consumer groups are taking aim at Aug. 20 recommendations by an Environment Ministry expert committee that some genetically modified organisms (GMO) be deregulated.
The expert committee proposed deregulation of organisms edited to remove or deactivate certain genes as opposed to adding new code, but critics are claiming this is “the same as genetic manipulation,” and that it is “strange” to exempt it from government restrictions.
“They (the committee) came to this conclusion after just two meetings. How can they say it’s safe?” said Consumers Union of Japan secretariat chief Michiyo Koketsu. “We need a debate that includes a wide range of experts, not just a small section of the research community.”
Research is already well underway in Japan on creating meatier red sea bream by disabling a gene that suppresses muscle growth. In cases like these — of disabling genes as opposed to replacing or recombining DNA — if the edited fish went to market without any report to the government, how could it be distinguished from organisms created through gene manipulation? Inspectors can identify organisms created through gene replacement by the DNA added to the plant’s or animal’s genome. However, in organisms with a disabled gene, it is impossible to tell if this was the result of deliberate editing or natural environmental factors.
Some critics have also pointed to the risk of harmful genetic edits, such as creating allergens by deleting a gene by mistake.
Continue reading In the News: “Gov’t committee’s GMO deregulation proposal too hasty: consumer groups, experts”
International Symposium: Report from South Korea Meeting About Labelling of GM Food
The demand for better labelling of genetically modified food is rising in South Korea. With citizens taking the lead, over 200,000 people signed a petition in March, 2018 and was officially submitted to the government, but no response has yet been coming forward.
On July 19, 2018 an international symposium will be held in Seoul with invited specialists from Japan and the United States, to discuss the current status of GM food labelling. The hosts are different South Korean civil society organizations. Consumers Union of Japan and Seikatsu Club will be representing Japan.
We will hold an event in Tokyo on July 24, 2018 to discuss the current efforts to improve the GM food labelling in South Korea, Japan and the US.
Date: July 24, 2018 (Tuesday) 13:30-15:30
Place: Tokyo Women’s Plaza
The nearest station: The subway Omotesando station B2 exit or the JR Shibuya station Miyamasuzaka exit
Entrance fee: The general public: 800 yen (CUJ members 500 yen)
Reservation isn’t necessary.
● Ryoko Shimizu (Seikatsu Club)
● Michiyo Koketsu (CUJ Secretary-general)
● Hirouchi Kaori (CUJ)