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Will Japan’s food safety standards be maintained under the TPP?

  • 2015-10-16 15:00:00
  • , Asahi
  • Translation

(Asahi: October 15, 2015 – p. 7)


 By Kenji Oyamada, senior staff writer


 Even before a [broad] agreement was reached in the negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact, there had been considerable concern in Japan that the nation would relax its “food safety” standards in the face of demands from the United States and other nations.


 Genetically modified (GM) crops have had their genetic makeup artificially modified so that they are herbicide resistant. In Japan, labeling is mandatory for some food products made from GM crops. The main GM crop is soybeans. Natto [fermented soybeans], tofu, and snack foods require GM labeling because some consumers are concerned about the impact of GM crops on human health. Most GM crops are grown in the United States.


 Some thought that mandatory labeling would be eliminated at the request of the United States, but after the broad agreement on the TPP had been reached, the government announced, “There are no stipulations [in the agreement] that require changes to Japan’s system for food labeling.” The government also said there would be no changes to safety standards for imported foods or to rules giving weight to national rights based on World Trade Organization rules grounded in science.


 Separate from the TPP negotiations, the Japanese and U.S. governments set up parallel bilateral consultations to discuss “trade issues.” The consultations have three main topics. One is the handling of fungicides. Imported oranges and grapefruit bear a seal saying “XX fungicide used.” In Japan, fungicides are classified as both agricultural chemicals and food additives. The latter must be indicated on food labels.


 The United States requested approval procedures be simplified, saying, “Fungicides require double approval, and that is cumbersome.” If fungicides were required to be registered only as agricultural chemicals, then labeling would no longer be required. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, however, although approval procedures will be simplified, labeling will remain mandatory.


 TPP member countries also requested Japan speed up the approval of food additives used internationally. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it has been confirmed that “the 2012 Cabinet decision will be implemented in good faith.” In the 2012 resolution, Japan set a policy to move forward with approval procedures for 15 food additives. At present, four of those food additives have yet to be approved. These are said to contain aluminum, for which reason they are undergoing a meticulous examination.


 Ruminant-derived gelatin and collagen, whose import had been banned because of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), were inspected by Japan’s Food Safety Commission and others, and it was decided in October 2014 that the ban would be lifted.


 The Japanese government has only released the summary of the TPP basic agreement. The official text of the agreement reached among the 12 member countries and the “attachments,” which specify the details, have not yet been released. New issues related to food safety could arise. According to Nobuhiro Suzuki, professor at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate Program on Environmental Sciences and a specialist in agricultural economics, “The United States uses scientific evidence that supports its interests. There is a chance that the U.S. will again request Japan change its system.”


Food safety under the TPP


GM crops? Fungicides?

Key concerns about food safety

Under the TPP [broad] agreement


(based on government explanations)

Will labeling no longer be mandatory for genetically modified food products?

Labeling will continue to be mandatory.

Will safety standards for imported food products become less strict?

Food safety standards are based on World Trade Organization (WTO) rules and no changes have been made.

Will labeling no longer be mandatory for fungicides used for imported oranges?

Labeling will continue to be mandatory.

Will approval procedures for food additives be relaxed?

Our policy is to apply the same procedures as we have in the past.

Will the ban on the import of bovine gelatin and collagen be lifted?

Japan’s Food Safety Commission made an earlier decision to remove the import ban on these products.

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