Import-dependent Japan fears food crisis: report

Kyodo News

A farm ministry white paper on agriculture issued a strong warning Friday over an expected tightening of the supply-demand balance in the world food market, saying Japan may be significantly affected due to its low food self-sufficiency.

The fiscal 2007 white paper said the food situation for Japanese households is seeing “unprecedented changes.”

If food imports become impossible, households will be unable to secure sufficient food, the report says, noting Japan’s food self-sufficiency rate has fallen below 40 percent on a calorie basis.

It cites population growth in developing countries, rising demand for biofuels and farm crop decline due to irregular weather as well as record-breaking wheat, corn and other commodities prices.

It says world grain stockpiles have now declined to levels seen in the early 1970s, a period when the idea of a food crisis became a pressing world issue.

In view of the worldwide grain crunch, more than 10 food-exporting counties, including Russia, China and Vietnam, have restricted exports of rice, wheat and other commodities to prevent their own food sufficiency from declining, which could put Japan in a bind.

In addition, the paper says food-exporting countries are stepping up efforts to grow genetically modified farm products, making it harder for Japan to secure food products with no gene modification.

Japan depends too much on imports from a handful of countries for food, it says, noting that five countries, including the United States, China and Australia, together account for more than 70 percent of Japan’s total farm imports.

Under these circumstances, the report stresses that it is necessary to increase the consumption of domestically produced food while calling for the public to review its eating habits, including consuming food wastefully.

Even if farm imports decline to nothing, households can secure minimum amounts of calories by switching mainstay domestic food production from meat and vegetables to potatoes, the report says, noting this will lead to a dramatic change in what is served.