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2014年8月18日 (月)

(社説)食料の確保 自給率一辺倒をやめよ

August 18, 2014
EDITORIAL: Food security policy should be more diversified
(社説)食料の確保 自給率一辺倒をやめよ

Japan’s food self-sufficiency rate for fiscal 2013 stood at 39 percent on a calorie basis, remaining unchanged for the fourth consecutive year. There is no prospect for the rate to rise to 50 percent, a key goal set by the government for its food security policy.

On a calorie basis, even Japanese-raised beef is not regarded as a 100 percent domestically produced food if the cattle have been raised on imported feed.

Japanese consumers have become highly price-conscious, while many Japanese farm products are priced much higher than imports. Given this reality, it is probably not wise to treat the self-sufficiency rate on a calorie basis as a vital indicator of food security.

It is certainly important for the government to make efforts to increase domestic food production. But the government could end up spending huge amounts of money on ineffective policies if it focuses too much on raising the self-sufficiency rate.

A case in point is the policy of encouraging farmers to give up growing rice and switch to wheat and soybeans as part of the acreage-reduction program to lower domestic rice production.

The idea is to reduce rice production in response to sagging domestic rice consumption while trying to raise the food self-sufficiency rate by using surplus rice fields to grow crops that the nation buys from other countries in large amounts.

At first glance, this seems to be a sound idea. Under this approach, however, state subsidies to rice farmers switching to growing other crops tend to keep rising while the cost effectiveness of the measure remains unclear.

In fact, domestic production of wheat and soybeans has failed to increase significantly in the face of competition from cheaper imports. The total acreage of deserted farmland has kept increasing.

The government has decided on a major change in its rice policy. Under the new policy, a farmland control organization set up in each prefecture will be used to promote consolidation of rice fields and lower production costs. The government will terminate the acreage reduction program in four years.

The new policy will still be based on the same principle of adjusting production to demand.

The government plans to encourage farmers to grow rice to be used as livestock feed instead of growing wheat or soybeans. But this approach could end up creating a new inefficient subsidy-based program.

The acreage reduction program has distorted Japanese rice production toward high-end crops that are delicious but pricey. Farmers should be encouraged to do more to produce lower-priced rice as well.

Boosting the price competitiveness of rice will expand Japanese rice exports and help protect the foundation of domestic production. The government should step up farm policy efforts focused on these goals, especially for rice, the nation’s staple food.

It is also vital to strengthen Japan’s relations with major food producing countries to secure stable supplies while reducing food losses caused by disposal and leftovers.

From this point of view, it is notable that the economic partnership agreement Japan and Australia signed in July includes a provision that commits the two nations to make efforts not to introduce and maintain export restrictions.

The government should try to secure a similar promise from other exporting countries of agricultural, livestock and fisheries products.

Japan’s annual food losses have been estimated by the government to be 5 million to 8 million tons, roughly the same amount as annual rice production.

There are many steps that can be taken immediately to reduce food losses. The retail industry, for example, can contribute to the cause by changing its practice of rejecting food products when the period until the best-before date is not long enough. Families, for their part, can improve their dietary habits.

Efforts to ensure food security should be more diversified, instead of being focused solely on raising the food self-sufficiency rate.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 17


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