Japan's high-end food export potential let down by poor regulation

A recent food labelling scandal and ongoing concern over nuclear contamination, following the Fukushima disaster has damaged Japan's reputation.


Sabtu, 07 Des 2013 14:45 WIB


Kesha West Radio Australia

Japan's high-end food export potential let down by poor regulation

Japan, food, export, economy, Radio Australia

There was a time when food labelled "Made in Japan" was perceived as a cut above the rest.

And as a result, consumers were willing to pay a premium price for that quality -- even if it meant a 15 dollar apple or Kobe beef at a couple of hundred dollars a steak.

But that reputation at home and abroad has been hit hard by a recent labelling scandal and ongoing worries over nuclear contamination in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

Martin Frid works for the Consumer Union of Japan.

“They immediately stopped sales of anything that was contaminated, so it's not really something that is in the media a lot here. Although, I should say that some of the seafood have been banned by other countries, like South Korea. I think there is a concern that nobody really knows the full extent of the contamination of the ocean.”

Despite the bans placed on food from the affected region, several countries have curbed purchases from Japan.

Fish imports in particular have fallen by about a quarter in the years since the disaster.

Wakako Takasaka's family has been importing and distributing Japanese food in Australia for more than thirty years.

Her parents set up their business Japan Foods Trading in Melbourne, when very little was known about Japanese food.

“When my parents first started the business, there was a very little small Japanese community and obviously even smaller demands for Japanese food items.”

That all changed in the 90s and since then business has been booming.

But Wakako Takasaka says since the Fukushima nuclear disaster, already tough importing restrictions have got a lot tougher.

“Once we had the earthquake happen in Fukushima, there was restriction on where the stock was coming from. And then even still, once they gave us the areas that were restricted, anything that came from those regions would be tested by lab services once it got to Australian shores.”

Wakako Takasaka says their customers were also very wary of the potential nuclear contamination of "Made in Japan" food products.

“We certainly did get a lot of calls direct from public. A lot of our customers who on-sale to retail entities, retail customers inquiring about the safety of products.”

In Japan, consumers are also left shocked by admissions from several major hotels and department store restaurants that they had been regularly replacing the premium food products listed on their menus with inferior products.

In one case, imported beef was sold on as high-end wagyu beef.

Martin Frid from the Consumer Union of Japan says the revelations left a bitter taste in the mouths of the Japanese public.

“Frightening, it's maddening in fact, because they were selling these foods as high-priced, specialised shrimp that was better than any other shrimp in the world and so on. So they were clearly lying to the public and that is illegal in any country. That's illegal in Japan and it just should not happen. It's incredible that this could go on for so many years.”

The labelling scandal is threatening to derail Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's push to boost the country's export industry and help kickstart the economy again.

Mr Abe is hoping to double agricultural, marine and forestry shipments by 2020.

A big part of that plan is Japan's high-end high-quality food products, like Kobe beef, rice, fruit and sake.

But Martin Frid says the Government is putting the cart before the horse.

“If Japan wants to be seen as a reliable exporter of food, it will have to be much more transparent, the government will have to be much quicker in responding to these concerns. They need many more inspectors, they need many people looking at these issues immediately, so that it doesn't snowball into this kind of scandal.”

When it comes to the Australian market, Wakako Takasaka believes there will continue to be a demand for Made in Japan high-end food products.

But meeting that demand might not be possible.

“We definitely know that there's a demand for Japanese products, but in terms of the type of items we bring in, it's restricted. Coming into Australia, we can't do all the beautiful dairy stuff that comes out Hokkaido. For us, the issue is what the Australian government will put restrictions on.”


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