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    Posted by Sean at 20:03, August 21st, 2010

    The Japanese federal government is adding an agency for food safety:

    On 21 August, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries began a study to the possible end of establishing an “agency for food-product safety,” with centralized oversight of the safety of food products, as early as autumn 2011. The new organization would merge an arm of MAFF’s Food Safety and Consumer Affairs Bureau and the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare’s Food Department of Food Safety, and the plan most likely [to be enacted] is to establish it as an external agency to MAFF. The goal is to submit proposed revisions to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Establishment Act during the regular Diet session next year.

    A system will be created that, by merging functions and eliminating the deleterious effects of vertically segregated administration, will enable rapid response even when problems such as fraudulent labeling of origin or ingredients arise.

    The issues that most stick in the Japanese memory, naturally, seem to involve sources of foreign food products: Starlink and BSE, for example. Whether those actually exposed Japanese consumers to potential harm has been seriously questioned. The troubles with food imports from the PRC have been more troubling and have been going on for years. And, of course, Japan has its own malefactors: there was the memorable case of Snow Brand dairy products—man, that was ten years ago!—in which it emerged that plant workers in Osaka hadn’t bothered to follow cleaning and maintenance regulations for valve connections through which milk went while being processed. And then, like Apu on The Simpsons, there’s the more frequent practice of altering use-by dates.

    I don’t mean to make Japan sound like some sort of food-contamination horror show. It’s not. Society is advanced and runs well, and particularly in cities such as Tokyo, your complaint is likely to be that the produce and meat are so disturbingly perfect that they seem to have been developed for a magazine shoot rather than for human consumption. But problems do crop up, and the government does need to step in and protect citizens from being victimized.

    I’m not sure that shuffling around some agencies is going to work, though. Tokyo already tried that in 2001, with it’s vaunted major overhaul of the federal ministry system, when MHLW itself was created through the mergers of the previous ministries of labor and of health and welfare. MAFF wasn’t reconstituted, but I think it had an agency or two added to it? Anyway, all that was supposed to be the big move that eliminated the deleterious effects of having the same function siloed off in several random places. It hasn’t been a conspicuous success, though I don’t think Japan’s any worse off than it was with the old system. It doesn’t seem likely that a new agency will really do better at ensuring the the Japan Agricultural Standard (JAS) is enforced, but it will probably sound like good news to consumers.


    Posted by Sean at 08:11, August 6th, 2010

    The Asahi has an English version of the mayor of Hiroshima’s peace declaration on the anniversary of the A-bombing of that city:

    In the company of hibakusha who, on this day 65 years ago, were hurled, without understanding why, into a “hell” beyond their most terrifying nightmares and yet somehow managed to survive; together with the many souls that fell victim to unwarranted death, we greet this Aug. 6 with re-energized determination that, “No one else should ever have to suffer such horror.”

    Through the unwavering will of the hibakusha and other residents, with help from around Japan and the world, Hiroshima is now recognized as a beautiful city. Today, we aspire to be a “model city for the world” and even to host the Olympic Games.

    This ceremony is honored today by the presence of government officials representing more than 70 countries as well as the representatives of many international organizations, NGOs, and citizens groups. These guests have come to join the hibakusha, their families, and the people of Hiroshima in sharing grief and prayers for a peaceful world. Nuclear-weapon states Russia, China and others have attended previously, but today, for the first time ever, we have with us the U.S. ambassador and officials from the United Kingdom and France.

    Clearly, the urgency of nuclear weapons abolition is permeating our global conscience; the voice of the vast majority is becoming the pre-eminent force for change in the international community.

    We’d all love a peaceful world, but as long as we’re human beings sharing it with other human beings, the best hope of approximating it is for the free, peaceful societies to have enough sheer terrible force at our disposal to make it foolhardy to launch an attack against us. The atom bombing of Hiroshima, though I doubt its mayor sees it this way, was justified for exactly that reason. Japan was an implacable enemy. While it had conclusively lost the war, it was delaying its surrender in hopes of getting concessions, and it was not as easy in the moment as it seems in hindsight to figure out just how long the Allies would have had to wait to hear from Hirohito. The hell of Hiroshima put an end to the hell that had been realized in Nanjing, Korea, and Unit 731; one hates to think of human deaths in terms of their transactional value, but sadly that’s the way war works. And it did work: Japan finally accepted that it had been well and truly beaten, and it got down to the business of creating a vibrant peacetime economy. American, Australian, and other Allied armed forces didn’t have to keep sacrificing their men. Mayor Akiba is right that we need wisdom and not luck to avoid annihilation, but in the opposite of the way he means it. The atom bombings were justified then, and free societies need nuclear armaments now.