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In the midst of a severe economic downturn, attention tends to focus on how to strengthen the nation’s industrial sector. But attention also should be paid to agricultural policies. Agricultural administration is directly related to food safety and agricultural development can not only increase employment opportunities but also play an important role in building a low-carbon society that protects the environment.

The agriculture ministry’s 2008 white book on agriculture touches on subjects such as how to increase the food self-sufficiency rate, ensure food safety, turn agriculture into a high value-added sector, protect agricultural resources and revitalize agricultural villages.

The white book begins with a self-examination regarding the national scandal last year in which contaminated imported rice was sold for human consumption. It says the ministry is pushing reform in earnest so that each ministry worker will seriously consider the interest of consumers and have a strong determination to promote food safety.

Referring to a separate scandal in which ministry officials falsified the number of ministry workers engaged in labor union work during office hours, it admits that the ministry has lost the trust of people and says each ministry worker must seriously consider what to do to turn the ministry into a organization that is kind, polite and honest.

Despite these acknowledgments in the white book, however, a tendency is seen among ministry officials to pay more attention to politicians who represent the interest of producers rather than promote rational agricultural policies. The ministry had originally planned to ask for some ¥800 billion as part of an economic stimulus package. After the Liberal Democratic Party’s agricultural lobby called for ¥1 trillion or more, the spending was inflated to ¥1.03 trillion.

In the coming Lower House election, both the ruling and opposition parties should present feasible agricultural policies with constructive aims so that voters can make a clear judgment on the merits and demerits.