The agriculture ministry has removed Aichi Prefecture’s Nishio Matcha tea from its list of geographically protected local specialty brand names so its producers can be given the freedom to try more efficient growing methods.

The removal of geographical indication (GI) protection, the first such delisting since the system was created in 2015, will allow producers of the green tea in the cities of Nishio and Anjo to abandon costly traditional cultivation methods.

The Nishio Tea Cooperative Association asked the ministry to cancel the GI protection so they can adopt production methods to make Nishio Matcha available to consumers at more affordable prices, such as around ¥1,000 per kilogram, which is less than one-third of what it can currently cost. Due to the high prices, sales of the tea have been sluggish.

According to the ministry, about 90 brands, including Kobe beef from Hyogo Prefecture, carry the GI designation.

The government’s brand protection system has also led to some conflict between producers.

In 2017, the protection was given to Hatcho miso paste produced by members of the Aichi Miso Tamari Shoyu Cooperative Society in Nagoya.

A Hatcho miso cooperative in Okazaki, Aichi Prefecture, applied for the protection. The Okazaki group, comprising two long-established makers, demanded that only miso paste made in the city be recognized as Hatcho miso. But the ministry granted the designation to the Nagoya group, which included miso producers across the prefecture.

The Okazai cooperative filed a complaint with the ministry against the decision. A third-party panel in the internal affairs ministry has since told the farm ministry that the decision was not appropriate.

The agricultural ministry plans to ask experts to draw up a proposal on how to respond to the complaint by this summer.

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