The economic and cultural history of fighting food loss and food waste in Japan has strong implications for current national strategies. Although the food loss and waste problem only became clear in the public domain very recently, it has long been tackled at the policy level.
But the issue of food waste only really entered the political agenda as an attempt to deal with the larger waste and garbage disposal problems that Japan was beginning to face at the end of the 20th century. At first, the focus was on recycling as a means to diminish the volume of garbage in landfills or for incineration. Waste prevention was addressed only at a later stage, when the structure and dynamics of the national food system came into question because of the enormous amount of food loss.
Along with targeting the sustainability of the food system, recycling, prevention, and education were pinpointed within the need to improve Japan’s dramatically low level of food self-sufficiency. Japan’s food self-sufficiency rates fell from 79 percent in 1960 to 50 percent in 1987, reaching a record low of 37 percent in 1993. In 2006 it rose to 39 percent, but has since remained roughly unchanged and is currently the lowest among the major developed countries. Japan is now aiming to reinvigorate domestic agriculture and restore trust in its domestic food system. Not only is the government promoting greater consumption of domestic products, but they are also encouraging producers and businesses to reduce food loss and recycle food waste into feed and fertilizer in order to cut down on imports.
Japan’s concern about food security in relation to food losses and waste, however, has developed quite differently than elsewhere in the world. International studies in Europe have always highlighted the implications of food loss and waste for malnutrition in poor regions of the world. The reduction of food loss in developing countries was included in the mandate of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, and the United Nations has identified postharvest losses as one of the fundamental causes of world hunger. The global food and financial crisis that started in 2007 has further highlighted how food losses and waste are not only ethical and environmental problems, but also compelling evidence of the failure of the market system.
While Japan contributes seven percent of total international food aid, securing a future stable food supply for its own population is a problem that Japanese policymakers are only beginning to address. Although domestic food security is a concern for all countries, the situation in Japan is aggravated because it is heavily dependent on overseas resources for satisfying domestic food demand. Japan is the world’s largest net food and feed importer, with 60 percent of its food supplied from abroad.
In Japan, food loss and waste represent loss of domestic food security. The motivation to fight food loss and waste in Japan does not only have to do with lower costs for consumers and producers, concerns for the global environment, or solidarity with underdeveloped nations. It also demonstrates a strong streak of nationalism and opposition to globalization.
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