Japan Offspring Fund(JOF) is a consumer group and environmental NGO established in 1984. We have researched issues involving the safety of daily life, including chemical residues, endocrine disruptors, and genetically engineered food.

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Japan Offspring Fund (JOF) Monthly Newsletter
January 2006, No.201

* Japan Offspring Fund – Our activities and ideas Part 1

Kowaka Junichiro, founder and director of Japan Offspring Fund, comments on issues he thought about in his student days, including how consumerism may be a balancing power to capitalism.

* The age of durable apartment buildings is approaching

Eco-village projects in Japan are aiming for a 300 year life-span. The philosophy is to utilize natural resources and energy in a proper way. This has also led to super-strong, earthquake-proof buildings.

* Vegetables: To worry or not to worry

Excess amounts of nitrates can be found in many foods, including vegetables and even some types of juice. Additives are also used in sausages and ham to create an artificial red colour. We discuss ways to reduce the intake of these harmful substances, and expose fruit juices that contained high levels of nitrates in our test.

Japan Offspring Fund – Our activities and ideas
Part 1: The consumerism that is necessary for capitalism

By Junichi Kowaka, director, Japan Offspring Fund

As our monthly newsletter is reaching beyond issue number two hundred, I thought it might be appropriate to consider how we think here at Japan Offspring Fund. Four months ago, as I was completing the new version of the book “Danger! Don't use!” I was reminded of some things I had thought about in my student days.

Around 1970, I was an engineering student at Sanno College . The word ”pollution” was very much in fashion. At that time, I heard a radio program with Professor Mitsuharu Ito, an expert discussing this issue, and was really shaken by the problem of increased pollution. Also, I read books that tackled the issue of qualifying examinations of pollution control managers.

Around that time, Professor Ito appeared on TV discussing the topic of “capitalism of today”. In his books and on TV, he mentioned the following:

1) Capitalism creates big businesses, and big businesses advances from oligopoly to monopoly. This is the reason antitrust legislation is necessary in a capitalist economy.

2) Pollution is a kind of disease of the current times, and the solution to this problem is found in Cambridge University professor Arthur C Pigou's welfare economics. The fundamental solution is the “Polluter Pays” principle.

3) As capitalism awakens desires and creates markets, it also leads to waste. For this reason, consumerism is needed for capitalism, as an opposite or rival power.

Looking at society today, this trend has not changed. Capitalism and big business still fan wasteful consumption by awakening desires. However, it appears that consumerism has not been able to become a balance that is powerful enough to be a rival. Citizens groups or consumer organizations that are active in this field have not been able to capture the hearts and minds of all consumers.

In the recent Japanese construction scandal, an architect was found to have faked earthquake safety data for some 90 apartment buildings. Politicians have in some cases tried to cover up the affair by protecting the construction industry, revealing how close the current government is to big business. It appears that consumers cannot expect to be protected.

It is in such an environment that Japan Offspring Fund is operating, and we wrote our new books about the safety of products and foods to alert consumers about an increasing number of topics.

With the support of many people, the market changes. When our book “Don't eat! Danger!” first became a bestseller in 2002, supermarkets soon started selling “antibiotics-free” chicken and pork. In this way, we will increasingly see more safe goods.

In the next issue, I will consider the difference between our civic movement and the political movement.

The age of durable apartment buildings is approaching

Recently, the construction of apartment buildings in Japan is starting to focus on long-term durability. Eco-village projects in Azamino and Tsurukawa are aiming for a 300 year life-span. The leader of this movement is the ecology architect Akinori Sagane. The philosophy is to utilize natural resources and energy in a proper way. This has also led to super-strong, earthquake-proof buildings.

We were impressed by the cooperative apartment building currently being constructed in Tsurukawa, Machida city in western Tokyo . The usual construction standard maintains that buildings should have a life span of around 50 years, but this project aims to have a durability of 300 years. This appears to be Japan 's strongest apartment building, as careful attention is being placed on structural details. Compared to ordinary apartment buildings with large windows, that may be easily destroyed by a major earthquake, the Tsurukawa building is designed to last.

The strength of the concrete depends on how carefully it is made. Even though the cost is 10-15% higher, a larger amount of reinforcing rods should be used. Using high quality indoor construction materials designed to avoid the sick house syndrome, the strength can be up to 20% higher than for ordinary buildings. Thus, safety, health, and durability can be obtained. A good building should even be able to stand for one thousand years.

What will happen with all the old, defective buildings in Tokyo ? A big question is where to put all the debris as old concrete buildings are torn down. The cost of tearing down buildings will inevitably rise, and could become as high as the cost of constructing a new building on the same site. Actually, we are afraid that Tokyo will just become an abandoned city, a ghost town. It is indeed time to think about what kind of buildings do we really want to live in.

Even the Tokyo Metropolitan Government office in Shinjuku, that was constructed about 20 years ago, is already showing cracks in its concrete. The cracks can be clearly seen in the underground garage. Another shameful problem is the asbestos that was used for that building, even though asbestos was already known 20 years ago to cause health problems and lung cancer. Clearly, the standard until now has been “economical design”, but actually that amounts to nothing but “collapsing design”.


Vegetables: To worry or not to worry

Nitrate exists in the natural world, and is needed as a source of nitrogen for plants. However, in humans, it can cause poisoning. Studies have shown damage to infants if nitrate is present in water. In the stomach, as nitrates mix with amino acids, for example in meat or fish, nitrosamines are created that are known to cause cancer.

Nitrates are often added to sausages and ham to create an artificial red colour. It can also be present in different types of juice.

Using modern agricultural methods, nitrates are added as fertilizers to aid the growth of the plants. When too much is used, it can change the protein content of vegetables, and there is an increased risk to the consumer. Japan , with its low food self-sufficiency, has to import a lot of grains. Some of this ends up being used as compost, and is used in Japanese vegetable fields and rice paddies. This can lead to excess amounts of nitrogen also in Japanese crops.

FAO/WHO sets an acceptable daily intake level at 3.7 mg per kg (ADI). For an adult, who weighs 50 kg, this means 185 mg. By eating vegetables, it is quite likely that an adult will surpass this international standard. For small children or babies, there is an even higher risk that the ADI level will be surpassed.

Spinach and other common greens and root vegetable contain large amounts of nitrates naturally. Also, broccoli and cauliflower as well as onions may contain some nitrate.

Since the amounts vary a lot, consumers need to pay attention to what to eat. If you boil the spinach etc., the nitrate content drops by 30-45%. In addition, vegetables cultivated on open fields contain only about half the amount of nitrate compared to vegetables grown in green houses.

Organically produced vegetables have also been found to contain lower levels of nitrates, due to the method of cultivation. Thus it is important to choose organic produce as much as possible. Considering such factors, it is easy to get the right amount of vegetables in your diet, while avoiding excess amounts of nitrates.

Chose vegetable juice with less nitrates

Vegetable juices have become popular items in Japanese supermarkets and convenience stores, and are often sold in special campaigns. Japan Offspring Fund decided to test 10 products to find out if they contain excess amounts of nitrates. According to our test, high levels of nitrates were found in several common juices:


The amount of nitrate in the Takara juice was 49 mg/100g. For a person that weighs up to 50 kg, drinking 378 ml would lead to an excess nitrate intake. In general, juice made of tomatoes or carrots had a lower amount of nitrates, and are OK to drink even in quite large amounts.





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