Noda: The time is ripe for consumer agency

by Kazuaki Nagata

Establishment of a consumer protection agency couldn’t come at a better time, what with the current deterioration of the consumer environment, consumer affairs minister Seiko Noda said Tuesday.

Improving consumer administration, including creating a consumer affairs agency, “is one of the most important policy agenda (items) for the current Cabinet,” Noda, newly appointed state minister in charge of consumer affairs, told reporters at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo.

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda has stressed that coming up with comprehensive measures for consumers will be a priority in the extraordinary Diet session that starts Sept. 12. He plans to establish a consumer affairs agency in fiscal 2009.

Mentioning various consumer-related issues and scandals, including the food poisonings from Chinese frozen “gyoza” dumplings tainted with pesticide, Noda said, “a major shift to truly consumer-oriented policy is required.”

She pointed out that the government’s hierarchical structure, which helped boost Japan in the past, is one of the problems. She has repeatedly said this framework has caused consumers to be bounced around when trying to rectify problems.

This structure has failed “to properly address consumer-related problems” amid social and technological changes, she said, citing as examples faulty gas water heaters and “konnyaku” jelly that claimed dozens of lives, and ministries whose jurisdictions overlapped, thus allowing such problems to fester.

The new agency, expected to be a “control tower” monitoring consumer-related policies, will have a horizontal structure, and regional consumer affairs centers will be located all over Japan. With this network, accident and other information regarding consumers can be collected and swiftly transmitted to the agency, Noda said.

“In that sense, this is going to be a revolution,” she said.

During a question-and-answer session, Noda was asked if the government plans any action in connection with the dolphin fishing and sales of its meat in Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture.

Research determined that dolphin meat sold at retail stores in Taiji had mercury levels 30 times higher than the advisory limit set by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, and methylmercury levels 16 times higher.

Noda said that because the information was new to her and the consumer agency has yet to be established, it is unclear what kind of role she can play, but she said she will digest the information and consider an answer.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY BOYD HARNELL