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TOYKO— Consider living in a country where your farmers produce less than 40 per cent of the food you eat -- the lowest of any developed country -- and you depend on other countries to make up the difference. It might well give you the jitters.
That appears to be what's happening here in
An ancient culture rich in farming tradition is being forced to come to grips with the hard realities of globalization. How ironic in a country that practically invented globalization with the advent of Japanese auto technology.
Thanks in part to traditions and those heavily protected commodities like rice production, many Japanese farms are smaller than 10 hectares and they're not economically viable. And in a recent study, Japanese consumers rated food safety as their number one factor in making food purchases. Not taste, not price - safety. Doesn't sound like it would make a trip to the grocer much fun. Japanese grocery stores are going into a frenzy these days, trying to make food on their shelves appear more benign than grandma's apple pie.
The Japanese government is trying to solve the food safety and self sufficiency problems in one clean sweep by convincing consumers that the only safe food product is a locally-grown product. Unfortunately they've experienced a few hiccups along the way - an e-coli outbreak in 1996, a foot and mouth problem in 2000, BSE in 2001, and an "inappropriatebCrLf food labeling problem in 2002 (Japanese officials don't like harsh words like 'scandal').
Even so, nobody in
Leading authorities in the Japanese agriculture department told us they want to encourage farm consolidation, because they know it will make the remaining farms more economically viable. Yet they also want to maintain
But sometimes you can't have both worlds. Try to recall what the auto industry was like before the Japanese got involved. They embraced technology and used it to their advantage and almost ran the Big Three into the ground. Yet food is another story. And the attitude the Japanese take towards their food is why they're struggling.
If you live in a country the size of
If the Japanese could embrace science and technology in their food industry they way they have in auto manufacturing, they'd have no reason to worry about going to the grocer.