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Japanese government wants you to eat radioactive food: Part I

May 2, 2012

These fish give a typical example of the sort of fish available in Japan in the fall months.

Part I of a multi-series in-depth look at Japanese food.

Following the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, many nations set up restrictions for the import of Japanese food. Some were partial, affecting only certain food items near the Fukushima plant, while others were more comprehensive. The Japanese government, at the time and since, argue that they are taking the necessary precautions and that food on the market is safe.

In March 2011 the U.S., Taiwan, China and Russia, among others, banned Japanese food from the areas affected by radiation (hereherehere & here). On March 23, Hong Kong banned Japanese food from 5 prefectures over concerns of radiological contamination (see here). A year later Hong Kong has decided to resume Japanese food imports of eggs and meat provided they have a certificate of safety, reports the Yomiuri newspaper (Japanese here & English here).  This is good news for Japanese businesses.

How did Japan react when nations started closing their doors to its food? “Japan is working hard to recover from the disaster. I would request you not impose unreasonable import bans,” said Yoichi Otabe, a Japanese representative to the WTO (see here). He and other officials claimed the bans have no basis in science, and unfairly penalised  Japanese businesses. Whilst the Japanese claims should be examined, it might be sensible to do so in the context that nations importing this food have a responsibility to ensure food safety.

The Japanese are essentially claiming they are the victims of unfair business practices (by foreigners), which has led to economic problems for the areas affected by the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. That narrative begins to unravel when one looks at the domestic rejection of certain food items (the Japanese claim all are due to “rumors”). The cause of most of these “rumors”? The foreign media and the internet. Does this sound familiar? Gaddafi, Assad and many others denied their countries problems were domestic and shifted blame to unnamed foreigners.

A Bloomberg article says “100,000 farmers lost about 58 billion yen ($694 million) by March 1 [2012], or 25 percent of production” ( here). What the report does not do is list a detailed breakdown of the numbers showing fear among Japanese consumers, product restrictions by the Japanese government and restrictions by foreign governments. Without this information one has difficulty in knowing who lost what and why.

Contrast the 58 bn yen losses of Fukushima area farmers with increases in foreign food imports:

B) “Imports of farm products jumped 16 percent to 5.58 trillion yen in 2011”

The first problem is the dates do not match. Sentence A goes to March 2012, but sentence B only to the end of December 2011, a difference of about two months. Second, there is a big difference in numbers, which is not given in its entirety (what is 16% of 5.58 trillion yen? It comes out to about 9.28 billion yen).

Continued in part II of the in-depth look at Japanese food.

Civis Journal

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