Media  Global Economy  2020.05.20

Don't dispose of surplus agricultural products in school lunches! What is reflected by "Use luxury wagyu (Japanese beef) in school lunches" ーThe "All-ruling-party" Diet makes no attempt to consider agricultural policies from national interests

The article was originally posted on RONZA on April 5, 2020

In the previous article, "The reason why the stupid plan of 'wagyu gift certificates' was proposed," the strengthened authority of the Prime Minister's office (Kantei) and the reduced power of the Ministry of Finance behind that were mentioned as reasons for the recent deterioration of Japan's agricultural policy.

The Kantei leaves all policies other than those which look attractive enough to be useful for boosting popularity to lawmakers representing agricultural interests or farm-interest lawmakers (See "Japan's farm protection policy untouchable even for PM Abe's office"). This is not limited to farm-interest lawmakers, but unlike the time when several ruling party lawmakers worked hard together on policies in a multiple-seat constituency, in a single-seat constituency system--in which candidates are almost certain to be elected if they become a Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) candidate--lawmaker candidates are required to be a hereditary lawmaker or give a good impression to the LDP executives, rather than be well-versed in policy.

Thus, the deterioration of farm-interest lawmakers also progresses.

The proposal for wagyu gift certificates was one of the signs. This proposal received strong criticism, and did not become an LDP decision, though it had been agreed at a meeting of farm-interest lawmakers.

In the meantime, at a meeting of the Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, House of Representatives on March 31, an opposition party lawmaker proposed the use of luxury wagyu, demand for which has been decreasing, in school lunches, and the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries replied, "That's a very good idea. I'll talk about it with the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology." This was reported by the press (Asahi Shimbun dated April 1).

When I read this article, I noticed that I had not mentioned another important factor in the deterioration of Japan's agricultural policy to readers of the Ronza.

Agricultural policy, assuming the mission to be a stable food supply, involves the entire population. However, because of this factor, Japan's agricultural policy is decided by taking into consideration only the interests of a small number of parties concerned, regardless of the will of the nation.

At the time of the Great East Japan Earthquake, "nuclear power villages" in which industry, government and academia shared and pursued the same profit were criticized. However, "farming villages" may be worse.

U.S. wheat and powdered skim milk → Milk → Rice → Wagyu

Before discussing this, I will comment on school lunches.

You may feel that it is good that children can eat wagyu. However, reading the back and forth in the Diet, I thought "school lunches again!" This is because the school lunch has been used for disposal of surplus agricultural products until now.

After the War, the school lunch started with koppepan (similar to hot dog buns) made from wheat, and milk made by dissolving powdered skim milk in water. The wheat and powdered skim milk were the United States' surplus agricultural products.

For the US, which was pressed by surplus agricultural products, Japan was a promising market. The US conducted a major campaign for spreading a bread-centered diet. In 1958, there even appeared a university professor's book saying that eating rice causes reduced intelligence. In particular, school lunches succeeded in acclimatizing Japanese people to a bread-centered diet from their childhood.

Next, domestic milk was introduced into school lunches. At that time, raw milk production was basically surplus, so the dairy industry often asked dairy farmers to lower the price of milk, which resulted in unceasing milk price disputes. In order to alleviate the raw milk surplus, school lunches started to be utilized in 1964. Powdered skim milk was not popular among children, so milk was welcomed. However, to prevent the cost of school lunch fees paid by children's parents from increasing, it was necessary to reduce the price of milk with a subsidy from the national government.Moreover, after rice production became surplus in 1970, the sale of discounted rice for school lunches and subsidies for rice cooking facilities also started on a trial basis. Believe it or not, no rice had been used in school lunches until that time.

However, a bread-centered diet was established, so it was difficult at first to introduce cooked rice into school lunches. Now cooked rice is popular, but it was provided a few times a month or once a week at most even when it was formally introduced into school lunches in 1976.

And this time, it's wagyu's turn.

When the excess stock runs out, wagyu will disappear from school lunches

If expensive wagyu is provided in school lunches, a large amount of subsidy will be necessary to keep the cost within the range of school lunch fees. If surplus tuna and scallops are to be provided in the same way, the financial burden will be heavy.

That is not all. This proposal ignores the perspective of schools as places of education. The history of school lunches has been about the imposition of surplus agricultural products, from the perspective of those who accept surplus agricultural products, and those who produce them. There is not much history to be found from the perspective of education.

Nonetheless, both cooked rice and milk have lasted a long time in their own way. Through these, children may have come to think about the food issues and agricultural problems of Japan and the world. In addition, eating the staple food, rice, may have become an opportunity for children to notice their identity as a Japanese or study Japan's society and culture, which have been formed through rice farming.

However, what is being considered this time is only for now when an excess is occurring. If the excess stock runs out, wagyu menus will disappear from school lunches.

Perhaps a child who finds out that they are fed something that can no longer be sold at restaurants will realize that their stomach is simply being used for adults' convenience.

In addition, while schools are closed, it is not possible to provide school lunches with wagyu. When the novel coronavirus infection is stamped out and schools are reopened, wagyu demand will also recover and thus wagyu may not be provided in school lunches. This proposal may end up just giving false hope to children.

There are also concerns about health.

Domestic beef fed on corn from the US contains a lot of omega-6 fatty acids, which are prone to causing arteriosclerosis. It depends on how much beef will be provided, but consideration will be required also in terms of health. If children start eating a lot of marbled wagyu beef, triggered by school lunches, lifestyle disease in children may also increase through excessive consumption of fat.

The supply of milk to school lunches started in order to dispose of surplus agricultural products, but milk is a perfectly nutritional food, so the supply was meaningful for children's health and growth. Parties concerned expected children to drink milk also at home, triggered by this.

Would the opposition party lawmaker who proposed the provision of wagyu in school lunches have taken into consideration children's health and nutrition? Shouldn't the idea of surplus beef being given to children be ill-considered for a member of the Diet, a representative of the public?

It was also reported that Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Eto said, "Children born in Japan would be better to eat wagyu even just once a year than become an adult without having eaten it. Knowing is completely different from not knowing at all." Is he serious?

Our generation ate whale meat and never ate wagyu beef in school lunches, but most of us like to eat wagyu. It is the fat of wagyu that tastes delicious, not the taste of wagyu eaten once a year.

As discussed in the previous article "The reason why the stupid plan of 'wagyu gift certificates' was proposed," in the first place, more than enough measures for a reduction in the price of calves and carcasses have been already prepared, so new measures are unnecessary. Yet such a proposal following gift certificates was made. Could this be because lawmakers are considering a reduction in the burden on National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations (ZEN-NOH) having wagyu in stock?

Another factor in the deterioration of Japan's agricultural policy: the Diet

Let's return to Japan's agricultural policy as a whole.

The proposal for school lunches was made by an opposition party lawmaker. From the point of view of the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, wanting to dispose of wagyu beef that the industry has in stock, the ruling party failed with gift certificates and the opposition party proposed school lunches for him.

There has been the impression that a triangle of the ruling party's farm-interest lawmakers, the JA and MAFF has controlled Japan's agricultural policy for their own benefit.

However, there is another actor that we have not considered. That is the Diet itself. How has Japan's agricultural policy been deliberated in the Diet?

In the Diet, there is a ruling party and an opposition party. Discussions between the two parties become intensely confrontational over consumption tax, national security policy, nuclear energy policy, etc. These can be often watched on television.

But what about agricultural policy?

The fact is that the Diet, having no opposition party, can be said to be an "all-ruling party." There are no groups having conflicting contentions about basic issues. This is something that surprised me when I entered MAFF (as to the agricultural policy, some things other than this also surprised me.)

Unlike diplomacy and national security policy, in questions and debates in the Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to discuss agricultural policy, even the LDP and the Communist Party face the same direction toward the protection of agriculture. Therefore, there are no major confrontations but only minor differences.

Even at the time of starting the TPP negotiations, the resolution of Committees on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors, that Japan shall not eliminate tariffs on key items, including rice and wheat, and should withdraw from the TPP negotiations in the case of tariff elimination, was promptly made without opposition.

At that time, in discussions representing the public, a dissenting opinion could have been given along the lines of that from a perspective of benefits to the public, including consumers, free trade such as the TPP should be promoted. In order to do that, instead of protecting agriculture with high prices and tariffs, shouldn't the government protect it with direct payments?

However, such an opinion was not given by any party.

After that, this resolution restrained the Japanese government's negotiations. The managing director of JA-ZENCHU, stuck to the LDP while the TPP negotiations became a problem, visited a convention of the Communist Party and called on the Party to oppose the TPP.

If there is some difference, the opposition party may criticize a policy that the ruling party is forced to implement by financial constraints as so small in its degree of protection to be insufficient.

For example, in the times of the foodstuff control system when the government purchased rice from producers, the government or ruling party was forced to decide on the price of rice restrainedly for fear of increasing stock purchased by the government caused by rice overproduction and increasing financial deficits in the system as a result, while the opposition party insisted together with Agricultural Cooperatives that the price of rice should be raised more and the entire quantity of the increased rice supply should be purchased by the government. In arguments for the protection of agriculture, opposition party lawmakers can be more aggressive and radical because they are free of responsibility.

As mentioned in the previous article "The reason why the stupid plan of 'wagyu gift certificates' was proposed," the marukin compensation money that was problematic as a policy was legislated and raised in level as a measure in response to the TPP. Even when the US withdrew and the entry into force of the TPP was up in the air, the opposition Democratic Party claimed that this measure should be taken regardless of the entry into force of the TPP. This means any policy should be realized if it protects farmers, no matter whether the TPP has an impact or not, further no matter whether the TPP exists or not.

In the first place, the TPP has little impact on domestic agriculture. When the negotiations ended, MAFF also said so. Yet measures in response to the TPP, including legislation of marukin and raising its level, were taken. Above all, dairy and livestock farmers got fat off the process.

However, none of the parties insisted that wasteful measures that would be a burden to the public should not be taken.

"All-ruling-party" lawmakers claiming only the benefits of agriculture

Deliberated and adopted in the Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, agriculture-related bills are sent to plenary sessions to be enacted. Lawmakers in other committees never express opposition to the results.

In the Committee, there are no lawmakers who are against protection of agriculture but only lawmakers who speak for the benefits for agriculture.

Moreover, nor are there any lawmakers who claim that the government should secure the efficiency of agriculture in Japan by changing the method of protection to supply affordable food stably to Japanese consumers, even if not going so far as being against protection of agriculture. If there were any, such lawmakers would just be criticized as neoliberal.

The ruling and opposition parties agree entirely on major items of Japan's agricultural policy such as the rice paddy reduction (gentan) policy, the owner-farmer principle in the Agricultural Land Act, and opposition to liberalization of agricultural products and tariff reduction.

The public are forced to buy pricey agricultural products by rice paddy reductions and agricultural product tariffs, but there are no lawmakers who see that as a problem in the Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Under the owner-farmer principle that owners of farmland should cultivate their land, acquisition of farmland by a stock company is not permitted since the stockholder, the owner, is not consistent with an employee, a cultivator.

Therefore, non-farmers cannot establish a venture corporation funded by parents or friends to enter into farming. Farmers do not have successors, but it is a taboo to see the owner-farmer principle in the Agricultural Land Act as a problem in the Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. The Diet is also an advocate and a guardian for the ancien regime of the high rice-price policy, Agricultural Cooperatives and the Agricultural Land Act, continued from the times of the foodstuff control system.

Agricultural policy, having the mission of stably supplying food, should exist for the benefit of the public rather than for the benefit of farmers. Agriculture is to be protected as it is required for the stable supply of food. Such agriculture that does not contribute to it is unworthy of protection.

Tadaatsu Ishiguro, a leading figure responsible for agricultural policy in pre-war Japan, warned farmers that the belief that agriculture is the basis of the state does not mean that only benefits for agriculture should be sought. He argued that we valued agriculture simply because it was the basis of the state and that agriculture that did not constitute the basis of the state was unworthy of thought.

However, unfortunately, Japan's food and agricultural policy is made by "all-ruling-party" lawmakers seeking only benefits for agriculture.

The provision of wagyu in school lunches is also one such sign. In the Diet, the highest organ of state power, no opinion making an attempt to consider agricultural policies from national interests is offered. A reason why true agricultural policy reform has not progressed can also be found here.