Acquiring international certification that recognizes food safety is one effective method for a country to promote agricultural exports. Japan should proactively tackle this issue by taking advantage of its position as host of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.
The Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games has decided to limit the foodstuffs used during the event — including those to be offered to athletes — to those certified under a third-party standard that ensures food safety.
There is a leading international certification called GLOBALG.A.P. (good agricultural practices). Producers are required to implement strict processing control in a range of areas including hygiene, the work environment and compliance with relevant laws.
Producers and suppliers in more than 100 countries have obtained this certification, and in Europe, 70 percent of the vegetables and fruits sold on the market are said to have been produced by farmers certified under this international food safety standard.
In Japan, only about 400 farmers have obtained this certificate. Even when those who have been certified under Japan’s leading certification system for good agricultural practices are included, only about 4,500 farmers, or less than 1 percent of the total, have some type of food safety certification.
It is estimated about 15 million people will require food during the Tokyo Games, including meals served in the athletes’ village and bento boxes for officials of the Games.
The organizing committee maintains a policy of prioritizing the use of domestically produced products. However, some have pointed out that as things stand now, there could be a problem procuring foodstuffs.
Avoid ‘Galapagos syndrome’
The central and local governments, Japan Agricultural Cooperatives, known as JA, and other entities should boost support to farmers to help them obtain international certification.
Acquiring international certification is also regarded under the basic plan for food, agriculture and rural areas, which the government revised in 2015, as the key to overseas market development for Japanese farm products.
Japan’s exports of agriculture, forestry and fishery products totaled 750 billion yen ($6.8 billion) in 2016, making it difficult to realize the government’s growth target of 1 trillion yen ($9.1 billion) by 2019.
Even products that are perfectly safe and delicious can be refused distribution in overseas markets simply because they are not internationally certified.
By acquiring certification under a global standard, Japanese food will be even more highly regarded, possibly giving momentum to Japan’s food exports.
Acquiring international certification is also expected to boost assurance among overseas consumers regarding food items that might have been affected after the accident at a Japanese nuclear power plant.
Certification plans implemented by prefectural governments, as well as JA cooperatives, are becoming common within the country but most have yet to involve a third-party check and therefore fail to meet the requirements as international certification.
A “Galapagos syndrome” of farm products, in which they are highly rated domestically but cannot compete on the global market, should be avoided.
One of the reasons acquiring international certification has not spread among farmers in Japan is due to the cost of obtaining it. To acquire GLOBALG.A.P. certification, several hundred thousand yen is required in the initial year, and an average of 300,000 yen ($2,740) every following year to renew it.
The government extends a subsidy to farmers for the initial year’s cost, but none from the second year on. There are some ways for farmers to handle the price, for instance, by having a geographic region obtain the certification, thus reducing the costs borne by each farmer.