chapter  5
21 Pages

Securitizing food in Japan: global crises, domestic problems and a neoliberal state


Introduction: food as a critical political issue in contemporary Japan A magnitude-9 earthquake followed by a massive tsunami on March 11, 2011 brought about a series of difficult challenges for the Japanese government – perhaps more challenges than it could handle. These historically unprecedented natural disasters triggered the malfunctioning of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and eventually developed into a large-scale nuclear accident, contrary to the long-standing official view promoted by the Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power Company that nuclear power plants were disasterresistant and sufficiently safe. The nuclear disaster in Fukushima, which was eventually categorized as a Level 7 accident on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale, the same level as Chernobyl, released a vast amount of radioactive materials into the atmosphere. In the process of “managing” the accident, the power plant deliberately discharged radioactively contaminated water directly into the sea (Fukushima Genpatsujiko Dokuritsu Kenshō Iinkai 2012: 44-49; Tokyo Denryoku Fukushima Genshiryoku Hatsudensho Jiko Chōsa Iinkai 2012: 267-268). The radioactive contamination of natural resources – the soil, atmosphere, drinking water, and the sea – in one of the major areas of agriculture and fishery production in Japan intensified anxieties over the radioactive pollution of food among Japanese people. The management of food-related risks has been a pressing and ongoing task for both the Japanese government and Japanese people since 3/11. The issue of food security, therefore, emerges as a top political priority in Japan today. However, a look back at the political process in the 2000s reveals that this is by no means a new situation. Rather, the Japanese government has faced continuous challenges over food security throughout the decade. It was on September 10, 2001, the day before the 9/11 attacks, that the identification of the first BSE case was reported to the Japanese public. Since then, a series of food scares, bird flu, food poisonings, contamination of imported foodstuffs and dishonest labeling are just a few of the examples that have been exposed and circulated through the mass media. These food scares during the 2000s significantly eroded Japanese people’s sense of security over food, an indispensable resource

for all human beings to survive, while revealing a series of problems and deficiencies existing in the national system of managing food scare cases. As a result, policymaking elites were frequently forced to confront these issues and to reorganize the institutional arrangements responsible for handling food risks throughout the decade. Today, the issues of food security facing the Japanese government are not limited to food scares. The soaring prices of food and energy in the global market remind us of the other side of food security issues, namely, the various risks relating to food production and supply. The contemporary transnational food chain cannot be sustained without the international food trade system, a heavy consumer of fuel and energy. The ongoing rise in energy prices affects local food prices and erodes consumer confidence over the food supply in industrially advanced countries. The knock-on effects of rising energy prices and increased risk to energy supplies do not end there. The global shortage of energy supplies result in an increased consumption of biofuels, which in turn stimulates speculative investment on some of the basic staple crops (wheat and corn, for example) by large international corporations. In light of this sense, the significance of food to the global economy, as well as to national/global governance, has changed fundamentally as uncertainty and risk surrounding food production and supply deepens. In theory, Japan’s food production and supply, which is well known for its protectionism (George Mulgan 2000; George Mulgan 2005), could sidestep the global trends led by industrialized agriculture and multinational corporations, and possibly offer Japan some protection from their negative effects. However, the realities surrounding food risk in Japan are in fact profoundly determined by global influences. As Japan emerged as an economic power in the international arena, food sufficiency levels started to drop sharply, from 73 percent in 1965 to 39 percent in 2006, one of the lowest among industrially advanced countries (Ākaibu Shuppan 2008). In other words, the “protectionist” Japanese agriculture industry has largely been supplemented by foreign imports. Because of this, negotiations between domestic agriculture production and foreign imports remained a vital political matter throughout the postwar period. Naturally, Japan’s food policy has been shaped by this necessity of interacting with global trends in agriculture production and supply and food trade, something that is in particular pertinent today. Food matters therefore already posed a number of grave risks to security of the Japanese state and its people at a multitude of levels before the 3/11 crisis. To respond to such risks, the national government had implemented institutional reforms to manage food-related risks. The radioactive contamination of food caused by the nuclear disaster in Fukushima in March 2011 was thus handled within the new institutional framework of food risk governance that had been fine-tuned through the earlier experiences. That is to say, the effectiveness of the institutional reforms implemented in the 2000s was actually tested in the critical period following the nuclear disaster in March 2011. However, given the long list of criticism levelled at the government over its slow and insufficient policy

delivery, as well as the lack of transparency and accountability, by academics, journalists, food producers and consumers, it is fair to say that the current food security governance system did not survive the test on 3/11 and suggests that the institutional reforms of the 2000s were largely inadequate. It is worth noting here that the reforms of food security governance system in the 2000s were planned and carried out as part of the neoliberal political reform of the then Koizumi Jun’ichirō government, which placed a strong emphasis on deregulation and a non-interventionist approach. Considering these recent developments, this chapter takes up food security as one of the most critical livelihood security issues in contemporary Japan and examines the Japanese government’s handling of the issues. To achieve this, the remaining part of this chapter is organized in the following manner. First, the section immediately following this Introduction outlines the concept of food security, which has been developed in the context of international food politics. The next section of this chapter discusses how the idea of food security has been interpreted and understood in the Japanese context of food governance. After taking these steps, the chapter analyses the institutional reforms in the 2000s, which, as discussed earlier, were conducted under the strong influence of neoliberal political reform. Finally, the concluding section provides a brief summary of the discussion and considers implications of the institutional reforms on the post-3/11 food security governance system in Japan.