Revised food law endangers rice production

A bill to adversely revise the staple food law, which will have major effects on production and commerce of rice in Japan, was enacted on June 27 after the House of Councilors voted to approve it with the majority of the Liberal Democratic, Komei and New Conservative parties. The Japanese Communist Party, the Democratic Party of Japan, the Social Democratic, and Liberal parties voted against. The revised law will come into effect in April 24.

Akahata of July 4 reported that this revision of the law will lead to destroying what remains of Japanese agriculture.

Abandoning responsibility for stable supply

The average tendered rice price in 2002 was 16,099 yen (about 136 dollars) per 60 kilograms, a fall from more than 20,000 yen in 1995.

The fall suggests a major influence of the 1995 increase in the import quota (minimum access) on rice under the World Trade Organization agreement.

The rice market plunge caused financial difficulty for many rice farmers. It was revealed during the parliamentary discussion of the bill that this has driven some farmers to suicide.

The adversely revised law allows the government to abandon its responsibility for adjusting the demand and supply of rice and supervising price setting and government assistance. The law will allow market forces to fully control rice distribution, which will make the price drop further. A farmer, testifying in the Diet on behalf of rice producers, stated, "More than half of the remaining farmers will go bankrupt if the bill is passed." The law will pose a serious threat to Japan's agriculture that is led by rice growers.

Particularly, it is a serious mistake to replace the present system of "planned distribution", which more or less contributes to the stabilized distribution of rice, with market forces.

Lifting ban on speculative trading

Rice is the main staple for the Japanese people. It's the duty of the government to maintain the stable supply of rice at a stable price. But the revised law renames and reorganizes the Center for Pricing Independently Distributed Rice and allows rice traders to do business by reporting to the authorities instead of registering as authorized traders.

The law has abolished provisions banning rice traders from taking part in speculative dealings in futures markets. Under the revised law, the government doesn't have the duty to inspect farm products, including tests on the quality and safety of rice.

The revised law will openly allow huge trading firms and retail stores to participate in and dominate the rice market in their quest for profits. It will result in beating down the price offered by farmers, price-rigging, and hoarding, with possible serious damage to the people's diet.

Price and income guarantee

It is possible to block this bad law from taking effect in April 2004 if the forces which supported the law are forced out in the next Diet elections.

The need now is for the government to take responsibility for maintaining the stable supply and price of rice, and not allow large corporations to take control of the rice market.

To be more precise, it is necessary to drastically cut or abolish rice imports, the biggest cause of a sharp decline in the price of rice, and support the rice price to ensure rice reproduction and adequately compensate farmers' income.

The Agricultural Cooperatives did not oppose the revised law but are not satisfied with the framework set by the revised law. They demand that the government maintain the measures to stabilize farming management and prop up the rice price through measures to deal with overproduction of rice. What we need is to widely inform the public of the dangerous provisions of the revised law and increase the movement to achieve our common goal: safeguarding Japanese rice production. (end)

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