Regarding the March 14 article “High food hygiene costs choking export growth“: It is ironic that Japanese beef exporters complain of import barriers imposed by various countries. It was not long ago that a total ban on beef imports was imposed on North American producers as a result of isolated cases of BSE (mad cow disease). In Canada the animals found with BSE never entered the food chain; they were restricted to and destroyed at the farm. Even with the resolution of the BSE incident, Japan did not immediately lift import bans.
I have worked in the Japanese food-importing business in Vancouver, Canada, have owned a Japanese cuisine restaurant, and recently consulted in the restaurant industry. The JRO (Organization to Promote Japanese Restaurants Abroad) mandate of restaurant certification for authenticity has always struck me as a protectionist move for the benefit of Japanese food producers and exporters.
As a restaurateur, I always tried to use as many Japan-made products as available through my distributors, but ultimately our menu was based on locally available vegetables, proteins and drygoods. These items were combined with made-in-Japan food products to produce our version of Japanese cuisine.
I believe the true test of an authentic Japanese restaurant overseas is in its ability to use limited resources to make the best food. This was iterated by a Japanese chef who immigrated to Canada. He once told me that any chef in Vancouver can take the best ingredients to make great food, but that it takes a great chef to make great food from nothing.
I believe the next step for food producers in Japan who wish to get more products into foreign countries is to follow the model of the Japanese auto and electronics sectors and make their products in the target country. This has already happened with companies like Yamasa and Kikkoman, but this approach needs to be expanded through the efforts and assistance of nonprofit organizations such as JRO and Japan’s agriculture ministry.
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