A growing number of agricultural organizations are revealing the processes behind growing farm produce, much to the delight of health-conscious consumers and to the chagrin of some growers.

“To what extent should we disclose information?” asked an official of an agricultural cooperative in the Kansai region that is considering making such records public.

The official said consumers would grow uneasy if all the information on agricultural chemicals was revealed.

The livestock industry in Mie Prefecture was meanwhile thrown into turmoil by plans to disclose cow vaccinations. Each organization is allowed to set its own disclosure standards.

And an official of the Agriculture Technology Research Institute said that if information on agricultural chemicals and fertilizers is made public, “consumers (would still be unable to) judge whether they are safe.”

The institute is an independent administrative organization based in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture.

“What is required is a certification system that is easy for consumers to understand and a fair third-party verification organization,” said Shigeaki Sasaki, an official of the Wakayama Prefectural Government’s Arita Promotion Bureau.

The prefecture has revealed on its Web site the agricultural chemicals that are used in the cultivation of oranges, for which Wakayama is famous.

“As far as agricultural chemicals are concerned,” he said with a wry smile, “we have received almost no inquiries from consumers.”

Farmers with no experience writing cultivation records see the information disclosure system as troublesome and with few merits.

The Shirane City Agricultural Cooperative in Niigata Prefecture has released the records of brand rice grown using fewer agricultural chemicals and chemical fertilizers. But few farmers actually ship rice grown according to the recorded process.

The September 2001 outbreak of mad cow disease in Japanese cattle heightened people’s concerns over food safety.

According to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, 30 percent of producer organizations record such processes and offer information on them.

“The recognition that it is natural to guarantee the safety of foods is deep-rooted, and no reversal can be made,” said a ministry official in charge of consumption and safety policy.

Industry sources said the prevailing opinion about having to disclose records is not entirely negative.

Producer organizations that introduced the record disclosure system at an early stage are using it to compete against other industries as well as coping with imports, they said.

The Koshimizu Direct Delivery Center, a farm union in Koshimizu, Hokkaido, has adopted a system that enables consumers to find out more about farm products by using the bar codes on their purchases to look up relevant information on the union’s Web site.

“By disclosing details of the production process, farmers can develop their products as brands, gaining the trust of consumers,” remarked Takuji Nakae, president of Noa Co., a system design company in Abashiri, Hokkaido, that developed the bar code system.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.