Discourse on Food Safety and the TPP: October 2015

Due to the lack of transparency, stakeholders and mass media did not know what kind of food safety issues were really discussed in the TPP negotiations in 2013 and were often forced to speculate over their content. Speculation continued even after the TPP agreement was reached in October 2015, because the TPP documents, including the SPS chapter, were not released until early November. In October 2015, Asahi Shimbun published 201 articles with headlines that featured ‘TPP’. 140 of those articles dealt with issues related to agriculture, including the import quota for rice, dairy products, pork, and beef, agriculture in general and the expected effects on farmers, and Abe’s support programme for farmers. Some articles featured stories about farmers, especially pork and beef farmers. The tenor of most of these articles is rather alarming, because they create a vision of a vanishing Japanese agricultural sector (nogyo naku naru kamo).[1] This notion was most prominent in regional editions of the newspaper.

Food safety and health issues were in the headlines of only seven articles, although 40 articles briefly mentioned food safety, mostly in relation to the expected increase in beef and pork imports. Regional, prefectural, and local governments and assemblies sent numerous petitions to central government and the ministries related to TPP demanding more information about TPP’s impact on regional economies and especially agriculture and food safety. In a petition from the assembly of mayors from cities on Kyushu (Kyushu Shicho-kai), for example, the government was asked to respond to the increase in competition caused by the rising number of cheap imports and to guarantee food safety and strengthen Japan’s domestic agriculture.[2] This indicates that municipalities, especially in rural areas, were anxious about the possible negative effects on local and regional economies.

The Asahi Shimbun reports that several meetings and information events by MAFF officials have taken place all over the country to inform farmers, the food industry, prefectural and local officials, and other stakeholders of the impact the TPP will have on the food and agricultural sector. Most farmers, consumers, and local government officials quoted in these articles equated imported foods with less safe or unsafe foods and usually asked government officials whether imported foods were really safe.[3] Government officials gave replies such as, ‘I don’t see that there is a threat to food safety in Japan’ and emphasized the opportunities for small and medium-sized food businesses under the TPP.[4] Farmers stressed the safety of their own produce and promised

Japanese consumers that they would continue to produce safe food for them. Several articles that cover these events also refer to stakeholders’ concerns over whether or not all relevant documents had been made public or if more information regarding food safety and agricultural tariffs was yet to be revealed.

The price disadvantages of domestic food products were discussed in the newspaper articles as well, but the discussion was usually combined with remarks about the good reputation of safe regional ingredients and food products. The articles often quoted farmers or government officials who said they expected consumers to pay more for safe domestic products.[5] The emphasis on food safety seems to be a strategy employed to distinguish between domestic food products and imported food products and to legitimize higher prices for domestic goods, for example, with regard to domestic rice.[6] However, the assumption that Japanese food is safe per se or even safer than imported foods is not called into question, neither by farmers and the food industry nor by the journalists who write these articles.

Among the seven articles that explicitly cover food safety issues, one article reflects critically on food additives. It comments that although the approval and regulation of food additives have already caused conflict in the food trade between the USA and Japan, these issues were not included in the TPP talks and are not covered in the TPP document. Therefore, the authors expect food additives to create problems when the TPP is finally enacted. They also share the view that cars and other topics were privileged over food safety issues.[7] In the column ‘Oshiete! TPP’ (Educate us about the TPP!), the Asahi Shimbun dedicates the fourth part of the series to food safety regulation under the TPP. It features a table that clarifies the status of five food safety issues that have been discussed in the TPP: (1) the obligation to label GMO food still stands, (2) food safety standards for imported foods will not change and are still based on WTO rules, (3) the labelling obligation for fungicides used on imported oranges is still in force, (4) the approval procedure for food additives will not change, and (5) the Food Safety Commission (FSC) has decided to lift the import ban on gelatine and collagen made from beef. Oyamada claims that many people are worried that food safety standards could be weakened after the TPP agreement comes into force. He quotes an agricultural specialist from Tokyo University who argues that although there are no changes in food regulation now, it is likely that the USA will provide fitting ‘scientific evidence’ that supports its economic goals.[8]

Another article deals with food safety concerns related to lower tariffs for beef and pork. It states that although gastronomy and food processing companies welcome cheaper meat imports, many consumers are worried about their safety. A restaurant owner is quoted who describes the paradoxical situation of being happy about lower costs but at the same time having doubts about the safety and quality of imported foods. The same paradox is apparent in consumers’ attitudes towards imported foods. The consumers interviewed automatically assume that there are food safety problems related to imported foods such as pesticides, fungicides, and growth hormones. Nevertheless, they want to buy cheap imported food although they acknowledge that this might hurt domestic farmers and/or is possibly less safe.[9] The other articles, however, simply state that there will be no change in Japan’s food safety regulatory system, quoting the Cabinet Office’s TPP Affairs Bureau.[10]

Immediately after the TPP deal was reached in October 2015, statements were released by the organizations involved in the anti-TPP movement discussed above. The CUJ criticized the agreement and announced action against it. In its public statement, the organization acknowledged that the deal on automobile parts was achieved by compromising on agriculture and that this deal was achieved in favour of TNCs and on the back of consumers’ lives. They blamed the LDP for lying in its 2012 election campaign when it promised not to join the

TPP negotiations. The TPP agreement broke not only this promise but also the resolution passed by the Diet in April 2013 securing the exclusion of rice, grain, beef, pork, dairy products, and sugar from the negotiations, with a view to revitalizing these sectors and to protecting food safety and food security. The content of the TPP outline as adopted in Atlanta contradicts these election pledges and resolutions. According to the CUJ, the TPP threatens people’s rights to food safety and pharmaceuticals, and threatens farmers’ rights to small-scale agriculture.[11]

In its statement, Fujinkai argued that under the TPP, ‘the Japanese people’s economic sovereignty has been sold out [... ] to the US’.[12] With regard to food, they brought forward the argument that Japan’s food selfsufficiency and sovereignty are being threatened by the new import quotas for rice and the lower tariffs on beef and pork. Furthermore, they argued that Japan’s agriculture and food safety were being sacrificed in favour of the profits of transnational corporations in the automotive and pharmaceutical sectors. They criticized the Investor-State Dispute Settlement instrument as a means by which American rules will be forced upon other companies and states. Fujinkai announced increased mobilization, both domestically and internationally to stop each country’s parliament and especially the Japanese parliament from ratifying the treaty and to effect Prime Minister Abe’s resignation.60

In their statement, Nominren also harshly criticized the Abe government for making concessions to the USA on agricultural tariffs for products the LDP promised to exclude from the negotiations. The organization stressed that the TPP would have a serious impact on food safety and citizens’ health. The focus of the public statement, however, was clearly on agricultural tariffs. Food safety was hardly mentioned. Most of the text blames the government for failing to negotiate a deal that is in the interest of the Japanese people. The negotiations are criticized for their opacity and undemocratic character

60 Ibid.

and the unequal access to documents by TNCs. Nominren also tries to mobilize against the TPP and against Prime Minister Abe to prevent the ratification of the TPP and to drive Abe out of office.[13]

In the discourse about the TPP in October 2015, food safety issues were mentioned less frequently than in 2011-2013. Nevertheless, the conjunction of food risks and imported foods stayed intact. This is especially evident in the newspaper articles that follow a logic according to which lower agricultural tariffs lead to an increase in food imports that will not only cause the ruin of the Japanese agricultural sector and Japanese farmers’ livelihoods, but at the same time threaten consumer health, because they are assumed to be less safe than domestic food products. Food safety plays only a minor role in the short public statements released by TPP opponents after the TPP deal was reached. However, the statements do mention the threat of the TPP to food safety and the fact that food safety was sacrificed in favour of other economic sectors.

  • [1] See, for example, Asahi Shimbun, ‘Shohisha, nesagari kitai, shoku no anzen ni fuan mo, TPPgOi’, 34.
  • [2] 9 Ohata, ‘TPP no taisaku ya shinkansen seibi yObO’, 29.
  • [3] Kamiji,‘TPP genjO kara’, 32.
  • [4] KyOya, ‘Shokuhin jigyOshara to TPP iken kOryu’, 26.
  • [5] Honda, ‘Shinsaigo’, 28.
  • [6] 3Takahashi,‘Yunyumai ni yasusa de shobu?’, 6.
  • [7] Ota and Fuji, ‘Shokuhin tenkabutsu’, 5.
  • [8] Oyamada Kenji, ‘Oshiete! TPP 4’, 7.
  • [9] Asahi Shimbun, ‘Shohisha, nesagari kitai’, 34.
  • [10] Kiyoi, ‘Shoku no anzen’ seido henko nashi’, 5.
  • [11] Nihon Shohisha renmei, ‘TPP Osuji goi ni kogi shi’.
  • [12] Shin Nihon Fujin no Kai, Danwa.
  • [13] Nominren, Danwa.
 
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