April 04, 2012
Following the Fukushima nuclear disaster, concerns about agricultural food safety still remain in some parts of the prefecture and there are also areas suffering from decreased sales due to negative rumors. Much of this concern was caused by a lack of reliable information – a situation that was remedied in April 2011 when JGAP added radiation screening to its already comprehensive check program.
JGAP (Japan Good Agricultural Practice) is a nonprofit organization founded in 2006 to ensure the safety of agricultural products. Its main activities are developing voluntary standards for the certification of farmers and farm groups and also training JGAP trainers. It currently has 320 members including farms, food retailers and other stakeholders in the food and agriculture industries and works with them to maintain standards of best practice.
JGAP first implemented an accredited certification program in 2007 and now works in partnership with the GLOBAL GAP system. The organization directly trains the trainers who perform the checks and issue the two types of JGAP label, introduced in July 2010. The first label can be used by farmers on products such as fruits, vegetables, rice and tea, while the second can be used by food makers on grocery items such as rice, frozen vegetables and beverages produced using ingredients from certified farms.
JGAP inspections are extensive and include 120 points from crop planting through to harvesting. External JGAP trainers examine candidate farms and only award certification if all check points are satisfied. This thoroughness has built a strong reputation for JGAP, both in Japan, where it is recommended by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and also internationally.
Following the Fukushima nuclear disaster, JGAP also implemented a radiation check program, which it has been promoting heavily to address concerns among consumers based on incomplete or inaccurate information. The program includes the following four steps:
1. Comprehensive checks of farm land
JGAP personnel use radiation counters to check the onsite radiation levels of farms. Fields are checked individually to identify those with high radiation levels.
2. Detailed checks of soil in fields with high radiation
Checks are carried out to estimate the expected radiation levels of produce grown in the soil. Each item (vegetables, etc.) has a different absorption rate (transfer from soil to roots to crops) and levels are calculated based on these rates.
3. Random inspections of products ready for shipping
Further checks are performed on harvested items to ensure radiation levels do not exceeded the provisional regulations.
4. Issue of certification for farms that pass all checks
When a farm and its products have satisfied all requirements and safety is assured, the use of the JGAP radioactivity analysis program / confirmed label is approved.
Issue of certification for farms that pass all checks
Since its introduction last April, major retailers and food companies, have adopted the program and are using it to select suppliers. Individual farms have also enrolled and are experiencing improved sales, reflecting the increased sense of security among consumers due to the JGAP radioactivity analysis program / confirmed label.
JGAP is also cooperating with ,one of the largest Websites for introducing and reviewing restaurants. Together they have established a system in which farms that have passed the radiation checks are introduced to chefs and restaurant owners from Fukushima Prefecture. This connection allows farms affected by poor sales due to consumer concerns to expand their market.
The acceptance of the JGAP system by both businesses and consumers demonstrates the value of transparency in rebuilding trust in the agriculture and food production industries. While the focus is currently on radiation checks, this is just one aspect of JGAP’s efforts to create a society in which industrious farmers who are working to grow safe produce receive a fair evaluation.