Greenhouse gas reduction efforts for farm products to be given 3-star rating

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Rice balls made with rice grown using decarbonization efforts that merit a three-star rating are seen at the Taro Tokyo Onigiri shop in Tokyo.

The government plans to launch an initiative in which agricultural products grown using methods to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will be labeled under a three-star rating system when they are sold.

The initiative is intended to raise awareness among consumers by visualizing efforts for decarbonization by agricultural producers. It also aims to differentiate such products from conventional ones and accelerate the efforts among producers.

According to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, 23% of greenhouse gas emissions in the world, or 12 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent a year, derive from the agriculture and forestry industries.

In recent years, the European Union and the United States have worked out new strategies to reduce gas emissions with a focus placed on the production of environmentally friendly food.

Under a system to be established by the farm ministry, agricultural produce will be rated depending on the reduction rate of greenhouse gases emitted in the products’ production process, with one star given for cuts of 5%-10%; two stars for 10%-20%; and three stars for 20% or more. Star images will be displayed on price tags, flyers other materials. The decarbonization efforts by producers will be shown by data and displayed with star images in order to raise public awareness

A simple calculation sheet, a tool that the ministry has devised, will be used to calculate emission reduction rates. Producers will fill out the sheet by inputting via a computer the type of agricultural products and the planting acreage, as well as the amounts of fuel, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, plastics and other materials that they use. Their reduction rates will then be calculated from a comparison to the amount of emissions when standard agricultural methods are used.

The ministry supports environmental efforts, such as the introduction of greenhouses that utilize solar energy and the use of fertilizer made by plowing plants into fields. It also envisages such efforts to be reflected in the calculation sheet.

The ministry intends to prevent fraudulence by specifying that obtaining stars through false information is a violation of the Law against Unjustifiable Premiums and Misleading Representations.

Three agricultural products — rice, tomatoes and cucumbers — are currently being sold using the three-star rating at about 10 supermarkets and eateries in Tokyo, Osaka and Shiga prefectures on an experimental basis.

While verifying the effectiveness of the initiative through questionnaires and other methods, the ministry intends to increase the number of items to about 20 by the end of this fiscal year, and the number of stores selling such products will be increased gradually.

The initiative will be subsequently expanded to include meat and other livestock products, with the aim of making such star-rated products available throughout Japan by fiscal 2025.

This year, the ministry established a legal framework to implement the “Strategy for Sustainable Food Systems,” which aims for both the improvement of productivity and the reduction of the environmental impact in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors. Under the strategy, the ministry aims to achieve goals in these fields by 2050, such as bringing CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion to zero, reducing the use of chemical fertilizers by 30% and increasing the total area of land used for organic farming to 1 million hectares.

To attain these goals, the ministry decided to create this new system as it is necessary for consumers to understand the value of eco-friendly agricultural products and the need of sharing the burden in the form of price increases if costs rise.

In a survey on consumer trends conducted in July by the Tokyo-based Japan Finance Corporation, 4% of 2,000 respondents said they would buy eco-friendly agricultural and food products regardless of their prices, while 34% of them said they would buy such products only sometimes even if they are relatively expensive. Among the respondents in their 20s, more than 7% said they did not mind the prices, higher than those in their 40s and 50s, who accounted for less than 3% of the total.