Discourse on Food Safety and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP): Perspectives from Japan

Cornelia Reiher


On 5 October 2015 the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement was finally reached in Atlanta. Among the 12 contracting partners were the USA, Canada, and Australia - major producers of agricultural products. Although TPP negotiations began in 2008, it was not until July 2013 that Japan joined in, against the backdrop of major protests. TPP opponents included agricultural cooperatives, consumer cooperatives, labour unions, consumer groups, women’s networks, and opposition parties. Their banners at rallies in 2013 displayed messages such as ‘Protect food safety, protect agriculture’, or ‘TPP destroys rural areas and farmers’ livelihoods’. Many banners were explicitly anti-American with such slogans as, ‘We are selling our country to America. We oppose the TPP.’ Protests against the TPP had already started in 2011, when Japan’s then Prime Minister,

C. Reiher (*)

Freie Universitat Berlin, Berlin, Germany e-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

© The Author(s) 2017

A. Niehaus, T. Walravens (eds.), Feeding Japan, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-50553-4_19

Noda Yoshihiko, announced on 11 November that he would enter consultations with a view to participating in the TPP negotiations. Protests slowed down after Japan joined the negotiations in 2013 but grew stronger again in the second half of 2015, when the TPP negotiations entered their final stage.

The first wave of protests from 2011 against Japan’s actual entrance into the negotiations in July 2013 focused strongly on food safety, food security, agricultural tariffs, and farmers’ livelihoods. However, by October 2015 the focus of public discourse on the TPP had almost shifted away from food safety issues with the exception of tariffs on agricultural products. This is understandable because tariffs on rice, dairy products, pork, beef, and sugar were among the most controversial issues right up until the very end of the TPP negotiations. After the TPP deal had been reached, the public was informed that under the TPP, Japan’s 778% tariff on rice would not change, but that Japan would raise its annual import quota for US and Australian rice over 13 years from

50,000 tonnes to 70,000 tonnes and from 6,000 to 8,400 tonnes, respectively, and that over 16 years, Japan’s tariffs on imported beef would decrease from 38.5% to 9%.1

If the TPP is mostly about tariffs on agricultural products, why did its opponents in Japan fear that food safety standards would be degraded? This article analyses the arguments brought forth by TPP opponents and in newspapers who claimed that the TPP would harm the safety of food products sold in Japan. In order to find out how food safety and agricultural trade liberalization are linked in the discourse on the TPP, I will compare the discourse from 2011 to 2013, when Prime Minister Abe first announced that Japan would join the TPP, with the discussions after October 2015, once the TPP agreement had finally been reached. Furthermore, I will discuss stakeholders’ arguments against the backdrop of the actual content of the TPP’s Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) chapter that was released in early November 2015.

Rafferty, ‘Too Early for TPP Cheers’.

I will argue that the discourse on agriculture and food safety with regard to the TPP in Japan is structured in the same way as preceding debates about agricultural trade, where food security and food safety are always linked. The agricultural lobby and consumer advocates, who are not necessarily allies in other matters, present imported food as less safe than Japanese food to Japanese consumers. Food safety issues are often discussed within the ‘Us vs. Them’ dichotomy, referring to foreign foods as ‘dangerous’ and domestic foods as ‘safe’.2 As a reaction to globalization processes, food nationalism occurs in Japan, attempting not only to protect consumers’ health but also to protect local agriculture. However, this argumentation is misleading, because the TPP is not so much about struggles between nation states or about Japan losing its sovereignty to the USA, but rather about consumers and farmers in all TPP countries losing their rights to safe food and democratic discourse to transnational corporations (TNCs).

In this chapter, I will firstly introduce the TPP and food safety issues linked with TPP negotiations. This is followed by a brief overview of the discourse on food safety and trade in Japan since the 1980s. I will then analyse the discourse on food safety and the TPP from 2011 to 2013 to identify the convergence of food safety issues with agricultural trade in newspaper articles and in statements of three organizations that, as members of the Stop TPP Network, are prominently opposed to the TPP: Consumers Union of Japan (Nihon Shohisha Renmei or CUJ), New Japan Women’s Association (Shin Nihon Fujin no Kai or Fujinkai), and the Japan Family Farmers Movement (Nomin Undo Zenkoku Rengokai or Nominren). This will be followed by an analysis of the food safety arguments brought forward in newspapers and by the abovementioned three organizations in the October 2015 discourse about TPP before highlighting the actual contents ofthe TPP and its SPS chapter. I will conclude with a comparison of the arguments produced from 2011 to 2013 and in October 2015 and the content of the TPP’s SPS chapter. The chapter is based on the analysis of various materials and data including TPP documents, newspaper articles mainly from Asahi Shimbun and material from the anti-TPP movement. The data also include participant observations at

Reiher, ‘Japanische Lebensmittel’.

The texts read

Fig. 10 The texts read: (left) 'let's protect food safety! against TPP' and (right) 'we don't need TTP'. Both signs are by shin nihon fujinkai members. (picture by author)

anti-TPP demonstrations (Fig. 10) and qualitative interviews with different stakeholders conducted in 2012, 2013, and 2015 in Japan.[1]

  • [1] Translations of Japanese texts and quotes from interviews are my own. Names of interviewees arepseudonyms. Field research in March 2013 was funded by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS).
< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >