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Japan may need food security re-think after earthquake, say analysts

By Jess Halliday , 07-Apr-2011

The Japanese government may need to entirely re-think its food security strategy as the full consequences of last month’s earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster become clear, as imports are likely to increase.

Japan already has low self-sufficiency, with only 40 per cent of food consumed by 130m Japanese home produced, the lowest figure for a developed nation.

A BBC radio 4 Food Programme that aired under a week before the earthquake reported on a government public awareness campaign about shifts in Japanese food culture, which aimed to encourage people to eat more home grown, traditional foods over pricier expensive imports.

But Jean-Yves Chow, senior industry analyst North East Asia at Rabobank, and lead author of a new report, expects the combined effects of food-safety concerns and supply shortages are likely to limit exports and cause imports to rise.

"While the situation is still evolving, the domino effect of the disaster will likely result in more imports from trade partners, such as the US, Australia and China. The radiation issues at the Fukushima plant have heightened food safety concerns at a time when Japanese food self-sufficiency is already low.

“Japan may need to revise its food security strategy to manage the country's risk."

The report, called 'Japan earthquake- Magnitude of Impacts on Food and Agriculture', looks at the potential impact across six major agricultural sectors: rice, grains, meat, dairy, fruit and vegetables, and seafood.

It concludes that there is a temporary prioritisation on long-life and staple foods, but that Japanese peoples’ safety concerns over seafood, meat, fruit and vegetables are likely to mean more imports from the US, Australia, and China.

Meanwhile a number of countries round the world are testing imports from Japan to ensure products contaminated by radiation do not enter the food supply chain.

Global impacts?

While the overall impact on global trade is likely to be ‘moderate’, the analysts say the safeguard tariff system for beef and pork imports may require adjustment. Despite concerns about soil contamination likely to affect plantings, rice stocks from last year were high, so there is no immediate call for more imports that could impact global prices.

It also recognises that sectors with little direct damage experiencing temporary production problems due to regular power shortages. This is the case for grains and also for the meat sector, which is already facing a loss of total meat output of between 70,000 tonnes and 350,000 tonnes in the worst case scenario.

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