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Japanese government wants you to eat radioactive food: part II

May 6, 2012

Consumers now have to deal with the reality that a lot of their food is contaminated, even if it is below the government’s standards.

This is part II of a special report. Part I is available here.

The data say 1) there was an unspecified drop of in foreign and domestic purchases of Fukushima area food; and 2) there was a significant increase of imported food into Japan which far exceeded the amount of food the Japanese farmers did not sell. There is simply no comparison. In the absence of data on the types of food, volume or specific cost, these are several possibilities. The most logical is the Japanese themselves are responsible for the majority of losses in revenue. The second is that the people who are buying foreign food are shunning areas outside of the Fukushima affected zones (or that the affected crop is much wider than admitted). If this is correct, it would indicate that the Japanese have lost a considerable degree of confidence in the safety of their own food. This can be deduced from looking at the total amount of food produced in Fukushima, which only comes out to about 2.3 billion yen, according to Bloomberg.

This is important because the raw figures might give the impression the farmers’ loss of revenue is due to foreigners practising discrimination (with some number of Japanese at home believing “harmful/baseless rumors” perpetrated by foreigners). In either case the data can be easily used to scapegoat both groups as opposed to dealing with the possibility that there are legitimate health concerns among foreigners, their governments and Japanese residents. The terminology used in the Japanese press and government show a dismissive attitude towards concerns of radiation. They are referred to as “fears,” not “concerns.” The reality is that a good amount of food in the Fukushima affected areas contain measurable levels of radiation. Further, there is an utter lack of resources to check the levels of radiation. This is not an exaggeration. Some prefectures only have a dozen or so people checking these things. The result is that even in Fukushima only a small fraction of the items are checked, as has been discussed in the Yomiuri and other Japanese newspapers.

The Japanese government is eager to convince people to purchase food from Fukushima, but the farmers complain the government are not helping or doing enough with regard to ensuring farmers have the support and directions needed to grow food in the area (for the FT report here). Be that as it may, there are reasons why governments and citizens refuse to purchase certain Japanese food.

There is a historical precedent for closing markets to Japanese goods. Some nations closed off parts of their markets to the Japanese during the 1930s and; there was also an oil embargo by the U.S. in the context of Japan’s aggression in Asia. That had an impact on Japan’s economy as well as the war. One could understand why Japan might have argued unfair practices then, but in 2011/2012? Are the nations that imposed bans really going to benefit from closing their markets to Japanese foods? Maybe. But this is largely irrelevant when one considers that Japan has kept its markets virtually closed to foreign nations with its restrictions on foreign foods with markups, tariffs or taxes.

To be continued in part III.

Civis Journal

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