Misunderstanding over Food-Safety Standards

English translated version of "Business Prospect" on NHK Radio Channel 1 on April 17, 2012

1. You were one of the speakers at the symposium organized by the University of Tokyo concerning the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free-trade agreement on March 29. What did you think of the symposium?

Three of the speakers at the symposium were for the TPP, including myself, and three speakers were against it. We discussed not only the possible impact of the TPP on Japan's economy in general but also any effects it might have on specific areas such as investment, healthcare, immigrant labor, and so on. We also spent much time on agricultural and food-safety issues that are supposed to be most significantly affected by participation in the TPP. You can find a copy of the documents presented by the speakers and the video footage of the discussions on the website of the Graduate School of Public Policy of the University of Tokyo. There was heated discussion of many issues that clarified the points of controversy.


2. You have often discussed issues relating to the TPP and agriculture on this radio program. Would you explain how food safety in Japan will be affected if Japan joins the TPP agreement? I would think that most people are concerned about this issue.

Every country implements so-called SPS measures (sanitary and phytosanitary measures) to prevent the importation of foods, animals, or plants that may introduce or spread diseases or pests in the country.

The reason why SPS measures are taken up in trade negotiations such as the WTO agreement is as follows:

The purpose of international free-trade agreements is to reduce or eliminate import duties, which are a conventional means of protecting domestic industry. In cases where import duties are reduced or eliminated, a country tends to use SPS measures as non-tariff barriers in order to protect domestic agricultural products because they can have the effect of stopping or restricting imports. From the viewpoint of free trade, SPS measures should be prohibited if they are used as an instrument for protecting domestic producers. On the other hand, SPS measures are legitimate so far as they help protect consumers' lives and health.

In order to satisfy both purposes of ensuring food safety and maintaining free trade, one should identify which SPS measures are being used as a means for protecting domestic industry and should therefore be eliminated. The WTO Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures ("SPS Agreement") provides that SPS measures without scientific foundation must be considered as a means of protecting domestic industry. In other words, according to the SPS Agreement, SPS measures should not be implemented without scientific basis. The SPS Agreement also encourages WTO members to adopt SPS measures that are compatible with existing international standards. It is obvious that internationally standardized measures are better at promoting or facilitating international trade than different measures adopted by each country independently. On the other hand, the SPS Agreement allows member countries to set higher level of protection and introduce more stringent SPS measures than international ones if those measures have a scientific basis. This is based on the thought that each member country has the sovereign right to protect its nation's life and health.

In the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement that is often mentioned in relation to the TPP agreement, the United States and South Korea affirm that both countries respect the framework of the SPS Agreement. No country in the negotiations of the TPP agreement has showed its intention to change the basic framework of the SPS Agreement, although transparency of procedures is under discussion in the TPP negotiations. I do not think that each country's rights and obligations under the SPS Agreement will be changed or affected by the TPP agreement. If any additional obligations to the SPS Agreement were to be agreed to in the TPP negotiations, one might expect SPS measures in Japan to change. But I do not think that it is likely to happen at all.


3. Some people say that Japan's stricter food-safety measures could be degraded to the level of America's. What do you say about this?

Comparing both countries' existing measures of residual pesticide in rice, for example, the limit of the insecticide Chlorpyrifos is 0.1 ppm in Japan, while it is 8 ppm in the United States, which is 80 times higher than Japan's standard. This is the reason why some people fear that Japan's measures may be lowered to the level of America's.

However, as mentioned above, the SPS Agreement primarily intends to harmonize each country's measures with international standards, but not with a specific country's measures, such as those of America. If a country's measures were to be required to be identical to another country's, it would be an infringement of sovereignty and a violation of international law. It would also go against the basic principle of the SPS Agreement acknowledging that each country has the sovereign right to implement its own SPS measures. I would think that no country negotiating the TPP agreement, including not only Japan but also Australia and New Zealand, wants to adopt the same measures as America. The argument that American measures would be adopted for all member countries' measures as a result of the TPP agreement is based on a misunderstanding of international law and the SPS Agreement.

There is also misunderstanding over the way that food-safety measures or standards are determined. For example, the standard of residual amount of a certain pesticide is fixed in the following manner: beginning with animal tests, the upper limit or threshold of a certain pesticide over which it harms animals is determined. That limit is multiplied by a safety factor to set an acceptable daily intake (ADI) for human beings. The safety factor is usually one-hundredth, which means that the upper limit for human beings is made stricter than that for animals by dividing the latter by 100. ADI is defined as "the estimate of the amount of a substance that can be ingested daily over a lifetime without appreciable health risk to the consumer." Once the ADI is determined, it is allocated to each of the foodstuffs on the basis of the amount of such foodstuffs ingested by people in the country, and thus the standard value of a certain pesticide in each of the foodstuffs is calculated.

As you can see in the way of determining the standard value of residual pesticide in foodstuffs as mentioned above, even though the ADI is the same both in Japan and in the United States, a higher level of residual pesticides in rice is allowed in the United States than in Japan because Americans consume less rice than Japanese do. This is the reason why the standard value of residual pesticides in rice is higher in the United States than in Japan. The standard value of residual pesticides in other foodstuffs may be lower in the United States depending on how much of a given foodstuff is ingested by Americans. So it is meaningless to discuss which country's standards are stricter by comparing the standard values of residual pesticides in each foodstuff. If you want to compare both countries' standards appropriately, you should compare the ADI in each country. However, people claiming that Japan's standards are stricter than those of America obviously do not compare the ADI of Chlorpyrifos in Japan and the US. Actually, America's ADI of Chlorpyrifos is smaller than Japan's, while Japan's is smaller than the international standard. This means that the US standards are stricter than those of Japan and those of international standards. If the American ADI were applied to Japan, Japan's standard for the amount of residual Chlorpyrifos allowed in rice would be made even more restrictive. If the international ADI is applied in accordance with the SPS Agreement, which aims to harmonize national and international standards, consumer associations in the United States, but not those in Japan, fear that American standards may be degraded to international levels.

I hope that appropriate discussions of these issues will help people become properly informed about food-safety issues.

(This article was translated from the Japanese transcript of Mr. Yamashita's speech in the "Business Prospect" session of the radio program "First in the Morning News" broadcast by NHK Radio Channel1 on April 17, 2012.)

Related Columns & Papers

see more

Kazuhito YAMASHITA , Other Columns & Papers

see more

Macroeconomics, Other Columns & Papers

back to Columns & Papers TOP