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torakris
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It's not only food that is being wasted. The amount of packaging used for food products in Japan is just amazing.

I once bought two bottles of sakes in a depa-chika. They were then individually wrapped in protective padding, then with decorative wrapping around each bottle, then each bottle was put in a gift box, with individual gift wrapping for each box, put in two individual gift bags, who were then placed in one larger bag! And I did not even ask for any kind of wrapping, one plastic bag would have been fine!

6 layers of wrapping and packaging! This was an extreme, but the waste in incredible.

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It's not only food that is being wasted. The amount of packaging used for food products in Japan is just amazing.

That's what I always thought, too. But then I discovered that Canada produces much more garbage per capita than Japan does (1157 lbs vs 758 lbs--US produces 1930 lbs--all numbers are from the late 1990's). I was pretty embarrassed when I learned of that, especially since I was complaining about the waste in Japan at the time.

As for food, I've always thought most of the food that was wasted in Japan was that which was vomited on the streets by drunk salarymen :smile: . At the junior high school I worked at, our lunch leftovers were given (sold?) to the pig farmers in the area--all but the curry. Pigs don't like curry, apparently, though they have no problems with eating pork.

One of the first phrases I learned in Japan was "fukuro wa irimasen." Clerks would look at me a little strangely, but they almost always obliged.

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It's not only food that is being wasted. The amount of packaging used for food products in Japan is just amazing.

That's what I always thought, too. But then I discovered that Canada produces much more garbage per capita than Japan does (1157 lbs vs 758 lbs--US produces 1930 lbs--all numbers are from the late 1990's). I was pretty embarrassed when I learned of that, especially since I was complaining about the waste in Japan at the time.

Statistics don't always compare to well between countries. I think the main reason though is that even if Japan propably wastes more money than any other nation on the planet on food wrapping, other nations makes up for it in other areas.

For example, the amount of direct mail that I receive in my mailbox here everyday is just astonishing and more than makes up for the food packaging that I would use in Japan.

Also, in the US most meals outside would be at a McDonalds, Taco Bell etc which would come wrapped, where as in Japan a fast food meal is typically Ramen, Sushi or something similar that is not wrapped.

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  • 9 months later...

more wasting of food in Japan!

From today's newspaper:

Tokiko Kobayashi, 71, who had just finished harvesting half her crop, sighed: ``The remaining half is all gone. Maybe I can salvage some cabbage, but ash is stuck between the leaves of my lettuce and Chinese cabbages. I can't sell them.''

This is the second stroke of bad luck for Gunma Prefecture cabbage farmers this summer. Fearing falling prices due to overproduction, they had just finished destroying 3,030 tons of cabbage.

the article can be found here:

http://www.asahi.com/english/nation/TKY200409030151.html

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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  • 6 months later...

article from Asahi Shimbun

Japanese are known for their picky eating habits as well as their willingness to pay more for specialty foods from certain regions. Such traits have pushed Japan to the top of the world in terms of "food mileage,'' an indicator of the amount of transportation energy used to bring food to the tables of consumers. Japanese eating habits can be linked to trade rifts, trillions of yen in wasted food and even water shortages around the world.

"The Japanese today have a diet that is more extravagant than the diet of any royalty of any nation of any period in history,'' said a senior agriculture ministry official.

Validity of this statement? Extreme reaction by the government officials making the claim? Too much food being discarded a reality?

Your feedback please ...

Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

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yeah, I would say most of it is pretty true

I do have a couple problems with statements like:

Four years ago, when Shinohara was director-general of the Policy Research Institute of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, he said he was stunned by what he saw at a supermarket in Kagoshima Prefecture at the southern end of Kyushu. Among the vegetables sold was lettuce grown in the highlands of Honshu.

``I thought it was such a waste to bring lettuce from so far away when it can easily be grown nearby,'' Shinohara said.

But that's how things are in Japan. Many vegetables that have never been associated with one particular locale are now displayed at supermarkets with ads boasting their place of growth, often a prefecture hundreds of kilometers away.

Japan is not a large country but it is long and some areas offer better growing conditions at different times of the year. I wouldn't be surprised to lettuce in Kagoshima in the dead of summer that had been grown in the highlands of Honshu.

In the stores now a lot of the spring vegetables are showing up, things like bamboo shoots, butterbur, etc It is still too cold in the Kanto (Tokyo) area for these and almost all of them are from Kagoshima where it is already warmer.

I don't like how the article says that they BOAST about where the food comes from, that information is there to INFORM the consumers.

The Japanese are crazy about brand name foods though, actually they are crazy about brand name anything..... :blink:

There have been numerous incidents of false labeling foods as a specific brand when they actually weren't.

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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a similar article, also from Asahi, about a month ago actually talks about how the Japanese are wasting less....

The lunchtime crowd is determined to get its money's worth, hardly leaving a scrap untouched on dishes, a survey shows.

Armed with scales and a sharp eye for detail, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries staff visited 100 restaurants nationwide-not to sample cuisine, but to glean valuable data.

Their conclusion: The amount of uneaten food tucked under lettuce, hidden behind parsley or otherwise wasted after meals was 0.3 percent less than the year before.

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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i agree with this article. i often shop late, just before the markets close. i always wonder what they do with all that prepared food - like the bentos and deli items. i am betting it all ends up in the bin. i personally like the food brand labelling because i like to know where the produce comes from....

also, good luck taking away leftovers from a restaurant! there are no doggy bags!

a story to prove my point: once i was dining with my canadian friend. she could not even eat half of her meal, part of which was a burger, so she asked the staff if we could get it wrapped "to go". they said "IMPOSSIBLE". after some protest the manager came out and explained that the kitchen was not set up to handle such requests. (no one asks for take out)

i said "it doesnt need to be pretty, just wrap it in foil". he said "WE CAN NOT". i said "do you have foil" he said "yes". i said "please just wrap it in foil so we can take it" he said "it is not possible". we were very polite but it turned into this big ordeal. so, in the end, my girlfriend wrapped her 25 dollar hamburger in tissue and stuck it in her purse while the staff stood over our table FUMING. they actually told her she was not allowed to take the burger out of the restaurant in her purse :wacko: trust me it was not fine dining or a place that hasnt seen its share of foreign customers....

i know in terms of manners what we did was wrong, wrong, wrong BUT she couldnt eat it and she did have to pay for it so WE TOOK IT. and that is not the only time that has happened. it happens all the time if you are "CRAZY FOREIGNER" who asks to take home leftovers.......

"Thy food shall be thy medicine" -Hippocrates

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Easternsun, that is so odd. I've had my share of unpleasent service in Japanese restaurants, but I've never been refused a doggy bag.

True, doggy bags are not the norm, and the the food is likely to be roughly wrapped in tinfoil or plastic wrap and often leaks all over the place, but I've always been able to take home uneaten portions of restaurant food.

My mother-in-law, whose doggy bags really are for her dog, has always been able to bring home her food as well.

Sounds like the staff at that restaurant were just jerks. Care to name it so we can avoid it?

My eGullet foodblog: Spring in Tokyo

My regular blog: Blue Lotus

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This just seems to me that the market is at work and filling the needs of the consumer; I don't see a problem with it. People demanding lettuce from Honshu results in those farmers being more profitable. I wonder how much money would be saved if the government stopped its research projects on eating habits and just let the laws of supply and demand run its course.

"Instead of orange juice, I'm going to use the juice from the inside of the orange."- The Brilliant Sandra Lee

http://www.matthewnehrlingmba.com

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Given that the total length of Japan is 3500 km (2173.91 miles) and the area somewhat smaller than California, it doesn't seem so unusual that a lettuce traveled from one end of the country to another. Heck, in my grocery store in Finland, practically everything travels a long way to get here, particularly in winter. What about Charantais melons, Vidalia onions or Florida oranges? This is more a sign of the state of global agribusiness than uniquely Japanese finickiness.

That said, the Japanese have succeeded in getting products shipped long distances in far better condition than we are seeing in America and even Europe. Japanese produce is still grown to maximize flavor as well as visual perfection. American produce is grown to ship well and look good on the supermarket shelves, but most of it has no taste at all. European produce is better, but they are showing disturbing signs of American-style mass agriculture. When I lived in Paris, almost everyone shopped at Monoprix or similar for produce. Street markets like Poncelet and Rue Cler were becoming tourist attractions, with a large amount of imported produce being sold in a Disney-esque farmers' market atmosphere. The only holdouts are the weekly roving biomarches.

I don't like waste, but being finicky keeps standards high for the merchants. Nobody should accept styrofoam tomatoes or plastic peaches, no matter where we live. Why do we keep buying them? I also like seeing where the produce comes from. I notice local Finnish tomatoes are always more expensive than the imports despite the lower transport costs and the fact that summer here lasts only 3 weeks. In the end, it's all about marketing and market forces.

As for the doggie bag problem, my aunt in Yokohama has started tucking a plastic ziplock baggie into her purse to sneak uneaten food home. It's horribly bad-mannered, but she's getting more free-spirited with age.

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i have been eating at the same italian place for about 8 years. my dh and i are regulars and think it is the best thing this side of rome.

this is another place where a doggy bag is not an option.

we let it slide because they always remember our birthdays and our wedding anniversary and spoil us rotten with free goodies when we celebrate by dining there.

i am sure that it has to do with them not wanting the customers to see us walking out packing leaky foil wrapped pasta....no big deal here - it is a nice place and the food is out of this world.

i like the plastic bag in the purse method - i am going to have to remember that! i hate to waste perfectly good food when so many go without.

"Thy food shall be thy medicine" -Hippocrates

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I haven't read this article, and I don't know if "top of the world" means "with the other developed countries", "in the top ten" or "no. 1". And I don't have statistics to counter with, but I do know that wasteful habits can be found elsewhere. Britain is terrible at this, and as the supermarketization and now hypermarketization of our food supply has accelerated, so has the distance our food travels to get to us. Europe's common agricultural policy might one day be remembered as one of the most criminally wasteful and destructive food policies in history; farmers are unreasonably subsidized to produce food, and when surpluses occur, as they inevitably do, more money is spent destroying it. So while we're kicking open markets to less wealthy countries, we're ensuring that they'll never be able to compete with us in anything like a fair manner.

I do share the concerns of others that Japan is pillaging the planet for marine and other food resources with precious little regard for ecology, economic wellbeing of others, or the future security of supply; and it also bothers me that knowledge of this among ordinary Japanese consumers seems to be so patchy. But I also think it's too easy to point the finger at others. One of the worst consumers of world resources is the United States. I find a lot of their policies regarding food production, markets, and competition, to be utterly abhorrent. Europe and Japan may not be much better in this regard. For those of us who aren't Japanese, there's nothing wrong in criticizing the waste we see around us in Japan - God knows, there's enough of it - but I think we need to worry about a little more than doggie bags, and need to take a long hard look at what our own countries get up to as well.

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I don't know whether Japanese are particularly finicky about food, and if Japanese are causing problems on a global scale, I think it is mainly because of the sheer number of the Japanese people and because of Japan being an island country with a low self sufficiency.

I do think however that Japanese can be overly finicky about the freshness and appearance of certain foods. For example, there are a lot of Japanese housewives who feel guilty if they make excessive use of canned and frozen products. Bent cucumbers and irregularly-shaped tomatoes are not acceptable to many Japanese consumers.

In general, Japanese are industrious and meticulous to details, and these traits should not be taken for finickiness. It is because of these traits that Japanese have developed top-quality products such as juicy and sweet (and expensive) musk melons, wagyu beef, and kurobuta pork. Some Japanese say that Japanese fruit and farm products are "works of art". And I just don't buy the argument that "finicky = extravagant".

As for the imports of U.S. beef, finickiess has nothing to do with this issue. Food safety is the key here.

As for the doggie bag, some restaurants are worried that customers may make complaints if the leftovers cause them disease.

Edited by Hiroyuki (log)
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Finicky, definitely...a friend of mine has to go to great lengths to deceive her son if she uses frozen meat - he's 10 and he wants it to walk on to his plate and suicide in front of his very eyes, if possible. She and many other housewives feel extremely guilty if they keep fresh food in the house overnight - they *should* buy fresh every day, though of course, it's just a matter of whether it's sitting in their fridge or the supermarket's fridge in many cases. People in Japan are more aware of when fresh produce comes into their supermarket though.

Culinista

Japanese produce is still grown to maximize flavor as well as visual perfection. American produce is grown to ship well and look good on the supermarket shelves, but most of it has no taste at all.

Funny, I feel that Japanese vegetables and fruit fall well within the "looks but no brains" category. When I first saw the vegetable section of a Japanese supermarket, I didn't want to buy anything, because it all looked so dead to me - picture perfect, but not bursting with life. I don't want to eat a leaf that an insect wouldn't even walk over. :blink: However, those are my prejudices, and not necessarily any more defensible than Japanese ones.

Leafy greens are always fresh though, on cooled trays, misted from above, loosely wrapped but not sealed right up etc.

Fish is EXPENSIVE (but then I grew up on the coast). I don't like the sliced fish, it appears to have gone through too many freeze/that cycles to me. Whole fish is often good though - scaled, and comes in neat package with a little sticker saying "We will clean and cut this fish to your specifications", so you don't have to deal with fish guts hanging around your kitchen till next garbage day.

Meat...it ain't red because it's super-fresh, but because it's been sprinkled with this and that, as you can tell if you open up a pack of ground meat and see that the center is brown while the outside is freshly pink - the exact opposite of what *should* occur.

I applaud the number of minor crops grown on a commercial scale, and the willingness to keep levels of freshness high - (though my friend above works in a high-class supermarket and says they sell their less-fresh produce to bottom-feeder supermarkets or even give it away to staff (and sometimes thence to me, yippee!) rather than taint their own reputation by selling less-than-fresh produce, even at a discount :shock: ). I also think that sadly, now that there are at least 2 generations of people who have always lived in apartments, there is a pretty unrealistic level of expectations on how live vegetables or fish are supposed to look.

OK...prices...I'll look into it later, because "one pack" is not the same size as one US pack, I'm pretty sure!

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Getting back to the original article...of course summer lettuce in Kyushu comes from other places, any lettuce grown at that time of year in Kyushu would bolt - so they either eat something else, or they import.

Another Japanese problem (which politicians & bureaucrats are indeed aware of) is the mammoth size of the cities and extreme differences between the size of the centralized urban belts, and that of the depopulated regional cities and towns. In many cases, the major urban areas have expanded at least to their geographical limits (you know, mountains and things), making it very difficult to grow significant amounts of food anywhere near the cities where they are sold.

Food miles...this is a big argument used by Japanese growers against importing so much food, but one thorny problem remains...the increasing diversification of tastes has led to armies of little diesel trucks tearing all over Japan with small and inefficient loads, carrying what are essentially specialty and novelty products directly from small producer to individual consumer or small shop.

It's the dark side of the famed Japanese high levels of awareness of foodstuffs - so many average Taros and Tetsukos know in great detail when spinach tastes best, what varieties of spinach there are, how to identify a good bunch of spinach, etc. That's a positive thing, but then what happens when a nation gets so rich that every person feels that only the best is good enough? Japan is not so rich now, but today's young adults were children or teens in the consumption-crazy '80s - growing up in newly-rich households doing the newly-rich thing with their food expenditure - and those champagne tastes prevail even on today's beer incomes.

What bothers me is the huge power of Japanese food importers, both the global trading companies and the supermarkets/suppliers...they have the clout to bring prices way down, to insist that whole regions in other countries switch to producing one crop to create more efficient supplies for Japanese buyers, and then to suddenly drop that producer and run after another one, wreaking havoc on small and poor economies...Think Tonga, pumpkins, 10-15 years ago...although I don't know details of the situation in recent years and it seems to have stabilized, it looks like Tongan agriculture is now mostly monocultural, under the direct control of Japanese importers...yikes.

Edited by helenjp (log)
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All good points, Helenjp, but I think that just about every one of them applies equally to America, Europe and the rest of the developed world. Do you think Japan is worse in this respect?

I really think that one of the worst offenders in the process you're describing is the United States; forcing markets open, pushing down prices, eliminating variety, wiping out farmers to replace them with farm labourers and plantation workers, destroying the social structure and then moving on to the next profitable venture. GM production is just one more example in a long, depressing catalogue of hypocritical and domineering attitudes in the name of free trade.

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Ohba, I come from a supply-side country which is also a heavy importer of finished products - but doesn't have the clout to force the development of those products to fit its own needs. Japan is the only major economy I've seen in detail, and being an interpreter during the 80s and a translator thereafter, I've seen rather too much of the gears going round!

Not knowing enough about Nth American and European markets (including those "offshore islands" :cool: ), I suspect but don't know for sure that there's an additional level to Japanese importers demands - they won't take onions that are bigger or smaller than a certain size (12-14 leaves); they won't take pumpkins that are bigger or smaller etc etc. They want the product that Japanese growers have traditionally produced in very small-scale, labor-intensive farming, but they want it at mass-produced prices. A Japanese farmer can count the leaves on every runner of every melon plant, and control the number of blossoms ditto, because his "farm" is so small. (I won't even go into the distribution or tax system aspects). It's ridiculous to expect somebody who farms half a valley floor to do the same, especially at the low prices paid, so the result is huge wastage of product. In a country like NZ, it's obvious from the supermarkets that local buyers are only getting export rejects, but at least the produce is not wasted - growers in remote areas with no local markets for huge amounts of monocultured product simply have to toss it out.

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article from Asahi Shimbun
Japanese are known for their picky eating habits as well as their willingness to pay more for specialty foods from certain regions. Such traits have pushed Japan to the top of the world in terms of "food mileage,'' an indicator of the amount of transportation energy used to bring food to the tables of consumers. Japanese eating habits can be linked to trade rifts, trillions of yen in wasted food and even water shortages around the world.

"The Japanese today have a diet that is more extravagant than the diet of any royalty of any nation of any period in history,'' said a senior agriculture ministry official.

Validity of this statement? Extreme reaction by the government officials making the claim? Too much food being discarded a reality?

Your feedback please ...

That Japan imports a lot of high-end, premium-priced product is no secret. Here in British Columbia, of our 82 native coastal seafood species, there are several--especially herring, herring roe and sea urchin--that are harvested and then turn right at the airport, rarely to be seen at retail here. Japanese consumers and retailers will simply pay more. But 'food mileage' in the Japanese food economy is just one issue.

That's because rapacious fishing practices, both from the indiscriminate Japanese fishing industry and through the aggressive sourcing of other over-fished stocks for domestic Japanese consumption, are repugnant. It's been about seven years since Australia protected its native bluefin tuna fishery from Japanese fishers and about the same time period since New Zealand banned Japanese fishing vessels from its ports.

Japanese whaling practices lie somewhere beneath contempt and the bottom of the deep blue sea.

But, and perhaps ironically, Japan does not always care to import quality, even if it means saving the consumer money. The classic example, of course, is American rice. The Japanese rice growers' lobby has constructed elaborate firewalls against its importation, largely based on what they have promoted as being the inferior quality of the American product. Although the embargo was lifted in 1995, quota chicanes still strongly favour Japanese producers. Recommendation: Produce a superior grade and call it Condoleeza.

But wait, there's less. The United States has mounted a stealthy, and ultimately very clever response. It simply, as the article states, exploited the Japanese "willingness to pay more for specialty foods from certain regions." So, not content to meander through diplomatic channels, the US government blithely looked the other way while American fast food giants such as Mcdonalds, KFC and Burger King set up shop.

Now the fastest growth industry in Japan, if you'll excuse the expression, is obesity and juvenile-onset diabetes. Since 1982, obesity in Japanese men has doubled; in nine year-old boys it has tripled.

Extravagant, yes. Royal, not particularly. Because even the royals, you'll recall, let them eat cake.

Edited by jamiemaw (log)

from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

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A not-very-well-kept secret of the Japanese royal family is that they have for several generations preferred western food. :biggrin::hmmm:

Fishing...I think that the Japanese have pulled their socks up considerably on this one...it's been a few decades since they were dynamiting stuff out of the water to the extent that the islands in the vicinity were unable to catch enough to eat for the next few years. That's partly because Japan is now rich enough to buy imports (from other nations who dynamite...etc), and partly because the whole EEZ concept and resulting legislation is largely a product of the past few decades.

I grew up near a minor fishing port, and in the late '70s, we started seeing significant numbers of Vietnamese fishermen setting up businesses. There was constant strife over undersize fish - they saw the local seas as ridiculously cornucopian, and the smaller fish as more desirable for cooking whole anyway. The Kiwi view was that our colder waters slow reproductive rates down, so the rules could not be the same as in tropical waters, and further, the overfished waters off Southeast Asia seemed normal to the Vietnamese, but scary to the Kiwis.

One problem with people learning cooking from books and TV rather than off Mom and the old lady next door is that they learn a nationally standardized cuisine which doesn't fit what is actually produced by the local environment. People are also more mobile, so they are faced with unfamiliar local species in the shops. Result: everybody wants to buy tuna, or at least something labeled tuna, because they are not familiar with the taste or methods of preparation for other species, and because they feel that what is on TV must be "the best". Vicious cycle, because of course the shops stock only what the customers buy...

Obesity and diabetes, it is certainly sad to see porky Japanese kids, something I so rarely saw a quarter of a century ago. I put it down firmly to sweet drinks and to a lesser extent to ultra-refined snack foods. Japanese parents seem more reluctant to let their kids eat sweet snacks or drinks, but they don't realize how much sugar is in what appears to be a salty snack or a neutral-tasting sports drink, let alone the refined and artificial things that stand in for the straight-up ground grain flours and pressed seed oils of a generation back. Sadly, Japanese (and other East Asians and Polynesians, are genetically highly susceptible to diabetes, and start showing symptoms at much lower levels of obesity than destructive but apparently indestructible whites). But this is way off topic! :blink:

Japanese rice imports...well, agricultural protectionism is a popular political choice around the globe, however shortsighted! I think there would be only a limited market for other types of rice, which perversely is the strongest argument I can think of for opening the market - how much damage can small amounts of imported arborio or jasmine rice really do to the Japanese producers?! The real damage is the high protectionist prices, which make it cheaper for Japanese families to eat bread made from imported flour for breakfast, than domestic rice. :hmmm:

Quality vs. taste...Australian short-grain rice is fine for serving hot or even for sushi (maybe even better than Japanese rice for sushi...) but it cools to dry clumps rather than soft rice. That's not really a quality issue, it's a matter of cultural taste and different purposes. Conversely, Japanese breads certainly sell in western countries, but I can't see westerners giving up their crusty breads for pillowy "shokupan" every day of the week!

One thing I'd like to know...as the other Asian Dragons gain more economic power, are their food/food product imports showing the same trends, or not?

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I agree with a lot of what you're saying Helenjp, but I think other regions are similarly to blame. The pressure from powerful supermarkets in Britain on producers of food is well documented. Sadly, it doesn't result in better quality; just lower prices paid to the producer and bigger profits for the food corporations.

I don't know how constructive it would be to compare NZ with the UK, Japan or the US - a population of 3 million vs 60, 120 and 250 million - but I do have the greatest respect for what New Zealand has achieved with removing farm subsidies. If nothing else, it has shown that it can be done without wiping out agriculture: in the meantime, other developed nations talk about free markets while maintaining subsidies, which would be bad enough if it was just hypocritical, but is catastrophic in its effect on poorer nations less able to compete.

These two links have a little more on the subject - they're chosen pretty much at random from my internet search. Suffice it to say that given the choice between NZ and US meat, vegetables or fruit (a lot of the high end food in Hong Kong tends to be from the US, Australia, NZ, or Japan), I go for NZ every time, because I know where I'd rather my money went to.

http://www.cato.org/dailys/03-06-02.html

http://216.239.63.104/search?q=cache:cQ8wn...dy+policy&hl=en

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Yes, responsible trade is a global issue, not just a Japanese issue.

When I started translating, the US was championing free trade. Now, of course, it's big on protectionism. As a NZer, I'm sure my thinking is biassed, but a few years' spent teaching horticulture students in Japan as well as my previous experience translating and interpreting has convinced me that Japan's current protection of agriculture (in both domestic and international policies) is having bad results. NZ's removal of protection was pretty painful at the time, and definitely not perfect, but I feel that Japan's protection is actually destroying the primary sector here instead of revitalizing it. Since Japanese agriculture has such a long tradition of intensive but sustainable cultivation, that's a crying shame.

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