Newsletter -SAFETY OF OUR FOODS AND LIFE-
Have you ever looked at a box of bananas and noticed the label, that states that "post-harvest" treatments was used in the packing factories, including the chemicals with scary names like thiabenzadole and imazalil?
One of Japan Offspring Fund's long-running campaigns has been to expose the use of post-harvest chemicals on food crops. We decided to look at the USTR " National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers " from 1986 until 2000, as well as other documents available at the JETRO library here in Tokyo. Generally, the U.S. reports are very critical of Japanese legislation, using words like "opaque and unpredictable" (1991) or "non-transparent" (1995) to describe the problems US exporters face when dealing with Japanese legislation.
Repeatedly, Japan is said to have "structural barriers" (1995) and the reports claim that "certification problems hamper market access in Japan " (1998). We were surprised that the official reports used such biased and aggressive language about Japan , which for many years has been the biggest foreign market for American goods and services. Let us not forget that each nation has a democratic process to make legislation to protect its citizens. If they can bully Japan like this, how are smaller countries treated?
Every reports lists problems with trade in fresh agricultural products. For example, in 1991, the report says "Japanese plant quarantine regulations require fumigation of imported fresh fruits and vegetables..." This same phrase is repeated year after year. None of the reports say anything about the massive amounts of harmful chemicals and post-harvest pesticides used in U.S. food production. The 1991 report also states that " Japan continues to restrict the entry into Japan of numerous U.S. fresh fruits and vegetables for plant quarantine reasons, such as apples, pears, in-shell peanuts, tomatoes and potatoes." It should be noted that all countries can restrict imports for plant quarantine reasons; The U.S. is no exception.
In the 1995 report, the topic of fruits and vegetables has obviously become a big issue, and the explanation is longer. The report complains that "new varieties must undergo costly and time consuming additional scientific research and testing to be allowed entry under a phytosanitary protocol." Fumigation is mentioned again, as well as Japan 's spraying of American avocados with hydrogen cyanide upon entry into Japan , "even if the pest is not alive".
The 1995 report mentions that Japan opened its market to U.S. apples in 1994, for the first time in 23 years. The 1995 report also complains about Japan 's pesticide residue standards, and mentions media campaigns:
"...while progress has been made by the GOJ to establish pesticide residue standards in line with internationally recognized levels, pro-active government action is necessary to counter inflammatory media campaigns in Japan that continue to disseminate misleading information regarding the safety of imported foods. "
"Japan Offspring Fund was the only consumer organization that realized what a huge risk the post-harvest chemicals were to consumers", says Junichi Kowaka, director of JOF.
It is very difficult to know how much pesticides we actually consume. One study showed that the daily intake of organophosphates in young children in New Zealand is more than 20 times that of young U.S. children. Two of the organophosphates found at high levels, pirimiphos methyl and chlorpyrifos methyl, are applied post-harvest to grain in storage. This pesticide is now found in a wider range of foods (anything containing wheat) and at higher levels, so consumers in Japan should also be aware of the risks as consumption changes from a rice diet to a wheat based diet.
While trade in food can have many benefits for consumers, it is clear that much more effort is needed to educate exporting countries to put the consumer's interest first. Information about products through good labels are essential. Moreover, the foods should be safe and as fresh as possible. Japan , a country that imports a lot of foods, should certainly continue to require the highest possible standards. For consumers, buying local foods and organically produced foods is always an attractive option.
In a news story published on page 1 of Los Angeles Times on July 22, 1996, Japan's consumer groups are mentioned:
"First, tiny traces of a fungicide were found on some apples. U.S. and Japanese officials agreed the amounts were harmless, but consumer groups, allied with farmers' organizations, used traditional scare tactics against food imports to suggest all American apples were poisoned with chemicals. "
In his study, "The Agricultural Free Trade Debate: Poisoning the Planet and its Inhabitants." published in Journal of Policy and Culture: Vol. 4. March 1999, Darrell Gene Moen writes:
"A Tokyo-based citizens' group, the Japan Offspring Fund (Nihon Shison Kikin) commissioned the university to conduct the tests from late-1990 to early-1992. Residual levels of pirimiphos-methyl on Australian rice were measured at 3.7ppm, 18 times higher than the Japanese standard. Samples of U.S. rice contained 0.19ppm of malathion, double the ceiling of 0.1ppm set by the Japanese government . "
The following news paper articles mentioned JOF's post-harvest pesticide campaign (1992-1993):
"Tolerance Levels Set for Farm Chemicals." The Japan Times. August 22, 1992.
"Group Says U.S. Citrus is Tainted." The Japan Times. October 11, 1992.
"Chemicals Found in Food Imports." The Japan Times. October 26, 1992.
"Designation of Chemicals by Health leads to Lawsuit by Citizens' Group."
"Book Exposes Residual Chemicals." The Japan Times. January 15, 1993.
"Group Warns of Chemicals on Imported Rice." Mainichi Daily News. October 5, 1993.
"High Pesticide Levels Found in Some Rice from Overseas." Mainichi Daily News. October 15, 1993.
For more information:
Pesticide Action: The modern banana plantation - still a "green prison"
Pesticides in food: Why go organic?
Sustain: How green are our apples? A look at the environmental and social effects of apple production (pdf)
Japan Offspring Fund videos:
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