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2011年8月14日 (日)

社説:新米調査と取引 もう失敗は許されない

(Mainichi Japan) August 13, 2011
Gov't urged to take appropriate measures to ensure safety of rice
社説:新米調査と取引 もう失敗は許されない

The government has come under mounting pressure to ensure food safety as consumers' confidence in what they eat has declined considerably due to the ongoing crisis at the tsunami-hit Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant.
The government needs to take prompt action as rice is currently being harvested in Chiba Prefecture and other areas where rice is grown earlier than other districts.

Consumer concerns about food safety have grown after the national and local governments failed to prevent beef contaminated with radioactive cesium from the crippled nuclear plant from hitting the market.

As it reflects on the problem, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister has decided to conduct a two-phase survey on rice harvested this year in 17 prefectures -- mainly in the Tohoku and Kanto regions -- to see if rice is contaminated with radioactive cesium.

The ministry will ban the marketing of rice from regions where radioactive cesium that exceeds the upper limit set by the government is detected in the second phase of the survey and will order that all rice in such regions be discarded.

The ministry's decision to conduct double-checks to prevent the marketing of tainted rice should be appreciated.

The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry says that cesium in excess of the upper limit will not likely be detected in newly harvested rice as it has banned farmers in some areas in Fukushima Prefecture -- where high levels of radioactive cesium were detected in soil -- from growing rice and vegetables.

However, if rice, Japan's staple food, is found contaminated with cesium, it will have a serious impact on people's lives.
Therefore, the government must not repeat the same mistake that allowed cesium-contaminated beef cows to be shipped.

A growing number of local bodies that are not subject to national government rice inspections -- such as the Kyoto and Hyogo prefectural governments -- have begun to voluntarily check rice newly harvested in their areas for radioactive substances.

In order to ensure food safety and security for consumers, the government should extend necessary assistance for such voluntary efforts being made by local governments.

Amid growing concerns about the safety of newly harvested rice, futures transactions in rice were resumed at the Tokyo Grain Exchange (TGE) and the Kansai Commodities Exchange in Osaka on Aug. 8 -- for the first time in 72 years.

Rice prices are supposed to be determined through negotiations between producers and distributors. In fact, however, agricultural cooperatives that account for roughly 60 percent of rice being marketed across the country take the initiative in determining rice prices. Rice prices also fluctuate largely depending on harvest conditions.

Futures transactions are aimed at increasing transparency in determining prices and minimizing producers and distributors' losses by openly fixing prices in the market in advance.

However, transactions fell through in Tokyo on the first day because the TGE was flooded with high-priced orders for rice and rice prices rose far above the standard price it set.

Behind the move appears to be investors' anxiety that the amount of newly harvested rice to be marketed will decrease because of radiation concerns.

The market has gradually calmed down, but futures prices of rice remain at high levels.

If this trend is reflected in the spot prices of rice, it could deal a serious blow to consumers.

It is hoped that the rice futures transactions market will develop into one that will stabilize farmers' incomes without being swayed by short-term speculative moves and form prices that can reassure consumers.

毎日新聞 2011年8月13日 2時31分(最終更新 8月13日 21時38分)


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