This article introduces a new label under the Japanese Agricultural Standard system. According to the article, the initiative has been created to assist shoppers in buying environmentally friendly chicken meat and eggs. To qualify for the label, the products have to be of domestic breed, farmed under less stress and fed with more Japanese-grown feeds. Farms are also required to meet requirements on odor control and recycling, and convert chicken waste into fertilizers and fuel. The label came after ‘demand from private-sector poultry farmers’ and is expected to boost competitiveness of their products. Thus, this label involves the Japanese authority (Ministry of Agricultural, Forestry and Fisheries), farmers and the consumers of the product.
In this article, the Japanese authority is portrayed as a green ambassador that promotes environmental-friendly consumption and production. By creating a new label that recognises poultry ‘farmed through sustainable means’, Japan not only guides consumers in making more environmentally friendly shopping decisions, but also encourages farmers to adopt farming practises that take less toll on the environment. The new label is arguably green because it is only awarded to chickens and eggs raised in farms that meet recycling standards, such as converting chicken waste into fertilizers and fuel, among other requirements. Through recycling and repurposing waste produced in the process, farms should create less waste in their production of poultry and hence contribute to sustainability. Thus, this label reflects Japanese concern over the environmental impact from the domestic poultry industry.
Upon closer inspection of the label, however, one would notice that it is in fact the product of economic and political calculations. Other than the aforementioned requirements, the rest of the qualifying criteria are not directly related to environmental sustainability. Rather, they are aimed at encouraging consumption of local products and protecting the Japanese agriculture industry from its foreign competitors. The label, therefore, represents a deliberate attempt to interpret sustainability in a way that meets the agenda of specific stakeholders. This is congruent with Kirby’s argument that Japanese institutions have “framed and marketed to the public” the concept of sustainability (2011, p.161). While the idea of sustainability allows various stakeholders to reach a compromisation (Kirby, 2011, p.163), its vagueness makes it vulnerable to manipulations. This is evident in the case of whaling in which sustainability is being employed by both supporters and anti-whalers to justify their positions. Similarly, sustainability has been appropriated by the Japanese government to reason the creation of a label that protects domestic industry.
The political backdrop behind the new initiative also confirms that Japan does not have an inherent love for nature. In his analysis of key moments in Japan’s forest history, Totman (2009) demonstrates that it was the desire for development, rather than love for nature, that has guided Japan’s environmental management for centuries. By highlighting that demands from local farmers as the cause that triggered the formulation of the label, the article affirms that economic imperative continues to inform environmental management policies today.
Lastly, the new initiative echoes Robbins’(2007) argument that politics and ecology are inseparable from one another. By instituting the label, the Japanese authorities define and control the standards of sustainable farming. At the same time, the policy “ecologises” the political economic imperative to shelter local farmers, thereby blurring the lines between politics and ecology.
The new label established by the Japanese authority appears to be geared towards promoting a higher level of eco-friendliness in the production of poultry. Yet, closer examination on the different stakeholders raised the question of whether the creation of such a label is truly motivated by eco-consciousness.
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Kirby, P. W. (2011). Troubled natures: waste, environment, Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.
Matsuo, Y. (2020, January 14. Japan’s eco-friendly chicken and eggs receive new label. NikkeiAsia. https://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Agriculture/Japan-s-eco-friendly-chicken-and-eggs-receive-new-label#:~:text=The%20new%20label%20under%20the,waste%20into%20fertilizer%20and%20fuel
Robbins, P. (2007). Political Ecology: A Critical Introduction. London: Blackwell.
Totman, C. (2009). “Japan’s Forests: Good Days and Bad,” —Rhythms of Damage and Recovery. About Japan: A Teacher’s Resource (online resource). Retrieved 29 June, 2020, from https://aboutjapan.japansociety.org/japans_forests_good_days_and_bad_–rhythms_of_damage_and_recovery_-.