Food Security: Establish Legislation to Ensure Preparedness for a Crisis

Food security risks, such as global warming-related droughts and international conflicts, have been increasing. The government is urged to take all possible measures to prepare for unforeseen situations that could make it difficult to secure food.

The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry has set up an expert panel to discuss how to respond to emergencies, such as halts in food imports and difficulties in procurement due to poor harvests. The ministry intends to draw up plans by the end of this year and consider the establishment of new legislation.

Comparing the food self-sufficiency rates of major developed countries, Japan’s is among the lowest. While the country is largely self-sufficient in rice, Japan only produces 16% of the wheat used in such products as bread and noodles, and 25% of the soy used as a main ingredient for tofu, among other uses. The nation is highly dependent on imports of grains essential for food products.

With the international situation changing drastically, it is only natural to strengthen food security measures in preparation for emergencies.

Most of the grain Japan imports is from the United States, Australia and other friendly countries. However, global warming has caused frequent droughts in grain-production regions around the world.

An emergency in the Taiwan Strait or around other marine transportation routes could block the passage of goods, and imports from friendly countries might become impossible. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shown clearly that a conflict could pose a serious risk to food security.

Logistical disruptions like the ones seen amid the COVID-19 pandemic could occur again due to an unknown infectious disease. Preparations are needed to respond to every possible situation.

The expert panel is tasked with considering legislation that would allow the central government to order farmers to increase grain production or to switch from rice to wheat, among other measures, in the event of a crisis.

The panel is also expected to discuss such matters as price controls in the event of soaring food prices and measures to regulate food distribution to prevent hoarding.

Ministry guidelines currently include such measures, but they do not have a legal basis. As a result, some people have argued that the measures should be legally binding and clearly defined in legislation.

On the other hand, caution has also been expressed regarding mandatory measures that could restrict the rights of farmers, distributors and others. It is desirable to create a wide-ranging system that will include compensation for farmers and business operators who suffer as a result of the measures.

Other countries have also enacted laws to strengthen food security.

Britain has launched a legal framework that makes it possible to provide farmers with financial support when an emergency is declared, and Germany has established authority to order price fixing and food distribution, among other measures, in the event of a food crisis.

It is hoped that Japan will deepen relevant discussions by referring to measures implemented in other countries.

Japanese farmers are aging and the labor shortage is getting worse. Needless to say, it is important to rebuild the foundations of agriculture to mitigate the risk of food crises.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 19, 2023)