Japanese Take Historic Actions for Safe Food Supply - Moms Across America

Japanese Take Historic Actions for Safe Food Supply

Report from the UNSTOPPABLE Book Tour

At Moms Across America, we focus on mothers for many reasons, one being because they buy 85% of the food. However, the food we buy comes from global sources. And GMO crops grown in the USA are not only purchased by American mothers. In fact, the largest consumers of GMO crops grown in the USA are animals; livestock such as cattle, pigs, and chickens in Asia... as a result, the people of Asia actually consume more GMOs than Americans. 

I was surprised to learn that Japan plays one of the largest roles in the global food supply because they own the largest grain distribution center in the world, based in the USA. They distribute 60,000 tons of grains a day from the American Midwest to China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Latin America. 94% of these grains are currently GMO glyphosate-sprayed grains. If, after learning the truth about the dangers of GMOs and related agrochemicals, Japan decided to transition purchases to regenerative organic grains then they could not only transform the food supply and health of America, but they could impact the US farmers to transition to regenerative organic agriculture and reduce climate change by sequestering millions of tons of carbon. This would help to prevent 29 million homes from being lost on the coasts of both Japan and the USA by 2050, improve soil/water quality, and human/animal health. Japan has a huge opportunity to lead the way in transforming the food supply.

From December 1st to the 14th, 2019, I embarked on a 2-week UNSTOPPABLE book tour, speaking in 9 of the largest cities in Japan in front of delightfully full theaters, audiences of 200-500 at each location, 2300 people total. This is my third year going to Japan to speak, raising awareness about GMOs and the use of glyphosate, at the invitation of Green Coop, a food cooperative with 400,000 members in southern Japan. My book UNSTOPPABLE was published in Japanese by Gendai Shokan, whose founder was an activist in his college days. Due to courageous reporters, publishers, activists, and dedicated mothers, Japanese consumers are becoming more aware and more active. For example, recently thanks to pressure from a mom named Jeanne-san from Hokkaido, Daiso, one of Japan’s largest chain stores, stopped selling Roundup. 

Many Japanese people are now aware of the urgency of the situation. In the cities I visited, Tokyo, Nagoya, Sendai, Sapporo, Osaka, Okayama, Fukuoka, Hiroshima, and Okinawa groups such as Save Seeds Japan, Detox Project Japan, Moms Across Japan, Green Coop, Coop Shizenha, Coop Okinawa, Pal System, many organic farmer's groups, and local organizing groups rallied.

The organizers declared the events as historic. The UNSTOPPABLE tour was the first time that over 20 organizations worked together to host such events, gathering large groups, with record sign-ups to take action for new campaigns. As anyone knows who has worked in any cause, having different groups work together is an admirable feat and one that takes great commitment.

Historic Formation of the Japan Food Safety League

The consumers and farmers groups are not the only ones taking action. Parliament member and Oversight Committee Chair, Ryuhei Kawada, whom I met and discussed the food supply with last year, is highly motivated to protect Japanese citizens from harmful imported products. When he was 10 years old, he was infected with HIV by an imported American blood product that was used to treat hemophilia. The Japanese government concealed the known danger and allowed the Japanese people to use blood products without any safety regulations. Hemophilia patients were unaware of the dangers and 2,000 people were infected with HIV. At 19 years old, Kawada was successful in having an oversight committee formed for imported medical products.

Kawada noted that the Japanese government was again allowing harmful products into their country - this time in the form of pesticides and gene-edited foods - and formed the Japan Food Safety League (FSL). He stated, “The Food Safety League is a great opportunity to make Japan a respected country that guarantees food safety and social justice. With the creation of FSL, we declare our determination to work with people around the world who have the same aspirations, and fight against the distorted values ​​that make our children’s health a tool for making money.” Watch his full video announcement with translation here.

I was honored to speak at the inauguration of the new Parliamentary Japan Food Safety League on December 2nd. The formation of the Food Safety League, elected officials actually having the courage to take action where their own regulatory agencies have previously failed them, was inspiring and thrilling. I pray that American officials and governments around the world will take notice and follow suit. The FSL’s initial acts will be to purchase and distribute copies of my book to their Parliament members, address GMOs and glyphosate, work to get organic food into schools and create local seeds laws. This is truly historic!

Historic Seed Law Conference

Two years ago, the very first world leader that Trump visited was Japan’s Prime Minister Abe. My guess is that Trump knew exactly how important the Japanese purchases of GMO grains from the American Midwest are to the American economy. The result was that Abe dissolved the Main Crop Seeds Act which obliges local governments to secure local seeds for farmers and prevented foreign private companies like Monsanto from selling seeds in Japan. Abe struck down that law and began a phase-out of funding for local seeds. He opened up the market to private companies including foreign GMO companies. He is also going to revise the Plant Variety Act which recognizes the farmers' rights to save even registered varieties. The revised Act will prohibit farmers to save the seeds; they will be forced to buy seeds each year from private seed companies. Within 5-10 years, if local prefectures do not take action, farmers in Japan will be forced to buy seeds from companies like Bayer, Dow/DuPont, and Syngenta/ChemChina. Essentially Abe aided and abetted the corporate takeover of the Japanese food supply. He did to Japan what the US government did to the USA, at the behest of GMO chemical companies, 20 years ago. At first glance, this would seem like a crisis of epic proportions for food safety.

 However, the Chinese symbol for crisis is a combination of the characters for “danger” and “opportunity.” Leaders in the seed movement in Japan have seen the opportunity for local prefectures to make their own laws, now that the federal laws have been struck down. Traditional seeds are a crucial part of local Japanese culture.

Within those two weeks of my tour, representatives of organizations, parliament members and food coops announced a Seed Law Conference. Representatives from 40 prefectures gathered together in Tokyo as my flight left the country. This has never happened before and is attributed to the commitment of Yamada Masahiko, the former Minister of Agriculture of Japan. 

A much-loved, distinguished older gentleman with the energy of a 20-year-old, Yamada traveled to 8 out of 9 of my presentations, spoke at the end and rallied the groups to work together and to do specific consumer calls to action to Japanese companies, to work for organic food in schools and protect seeds. The results were tremendous. Stacks of response forms were returned to the organizers, hundreds of people in each location are now seeing themselves as activists. It was an honor to meet many leaders, farmers, activists, Parliament members, and mothers who have been working on this food safety issue for decades. I was also deeply moved to meet many who chose to take action for the first time on the day of my presentation. 

Taking Action Saves Lives

At many talks, mothers and farmers came up afterward to speak to me. At one talk in Tokyo, a mother told me that her daughter was sick for years until she finally figured out that she was reacting to the GMO potato starch. When she switched to an organic version, her daughter completely recovered. Her own symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome also completely disappeared when she ate organic. Many were chemically sensitive; one came from an agriculture town Ueda City in Nagano Prefecture,  that has the highest rates for recorded suicides in Japan. One mother who also lived in an agriculture area that sprayed glyphosate and other chemicals admitted that she herself had been feeling suicidal. But during my talk, she said, "I realized I could take action and raise awareness with other people." With tears in our eyes, we held hands and I told her, "It is the people who are the most affected that are the most effective in communicating about an issue. Because of what you have been through, you have a responsibility to others who are hurting to share your story, to live, and to make a difference." She agreed. My only wish was that all the supporters of Moms Across America, our donors, people who share information, everyone, could have seen the look in her eyes, and know that our work together is literally saving lives.

I was also able to have dinner with a mother from Fukushima who shared her distress over the lack of warning from the Japanese government regarding the nuclear reactor meltdown. She moved out of Fukushima with her youngest child when the government finally did alert the media 2 weeks after they opened the release valve and allowed radiation into the air, but her oldest children and her parents chose to stay. Many neighbors questioned her fears and criticized her for leaving. Many are now sick. We related and connected over the similarities between our governments covering up the dangers of GMOs and pesticides, and the dangers of nuclear radiation exposure. With steely determination, we both promised each other to press on.

Climate Change and Farming

During my visit to Watari in Sendai prefecture, near Fukushima, I had an emotional visit with survivors of the 2012 earthquake and tsunami which cleared 4 km of homes and farms along the coast of Japan. Over 200,000 homes were completely destroyed in the area and I was able to visit with one of the 3 families who had a home that remained standing and livable after the tragedy. A disturbing fact I learned was that after the event, because the farmlands were saturated with seawater, the soil was not arable for 6 years. This family had grown organic strawberries in the ground and their 12 hoop houses were destroyed. Green Coop board members learned of the farmer's plight and supported his family and many others in the areas for years afterward even though they do not have a Green Coop network in that region. Green Coop also supported women who created jobs by sewing kimonos into bags and gifts while they could no longer farm. The compassion of the community, the solidarity, and unity of the Japanese culture was beautiful and profound.

The length of time it took to recover the soil, however, had me wonder what would happen to such communities if more such events occurred due to climate chaos and sea levels rising. No community would be able to survive continuous 6-year delays. We need to be more effective in preventing climate change....and consumers might need to be more open minded to hydroponics, above ground growing of food with water, which is how the majority of strawberry farmers in the Watari region now grow their produce.

In Hokkaido, the northernmost region famous for its grassfed beef and corn, many of the audience members were farmers. An audience member asked, "What do we say to farmers that say they need to spray glyphosate as a drying agent before harvest?" I responded, "The simple fact is that they don't NEED to, They WANT to. It is faster and does dry out the crop, but they don't NEED to. Think about it, farmers in your region have been farming successfully for thousands of years. They have been swathing and letting the wheat dry naturally, which has health benefits... for thousands of years. Using glyphosate as a drying agent has only been happening mostly for the past ten years." I also explain the decreased quality of crops that have been sprayed with glyphosate. Farmers listen to quality issues...because quality equals sales. 

Japanese Consumers Have a Unique Advantage

In every city, I was greeted by Coop members with heart-warming joy and excitement for the possibilities available by working together. The Japanese have a huge advantage in organizing that most United States citizens are not familiar with. They have food Coops that have 100,000, 400,000, and 1 million plus members. These are not small CSAs and they are not the big impersonal online grocery websites where you never meet a real person. These members not only gather together to bring each other safer food in-person, and meet at local events, but they have working cooperatives where they work together with people in the community to provide services. Coops like Green Coop have a board made up entirely of mothers, who have repeatedly voted to use their profits to invest in homeless shelters and nursery schools and to have safe food and organic gardens. In dropping off non-GMO and organic food to their members door-to-door, the working cooperative realized that their members would like to recycle, so they drop off food, pick up bags of clothes, and bring them to a recycling center that supports the education of 3,000 students in Pakistan. They also saw a need for financial advisors, so they provide counseling and services. Coops in Japan like Green Coop are more than a way to get safe food, they are a way to strengthen the community and care for each other. 

It Starts with Caring for Each Other

The day I left Japan, the CEO of Green Coop traveled from Fukuoka to Tokyo with me on a 2- hour flight just to make sure I safely concluded my journey. When I learned of his generous act I was deeply moved. I realized why the organization was blooming with growth and success...the care and attention from the very top, the founder Mr. Yukioka and CEO Mr. Kataoka, to the board of mothers...their primary focus is on caring for their community, not on making a profit. However, caring for the community does result in profits...and more than just monetary ones...relationships that wrap around the world and health that touches future generations.

I went to Japan to share my experience in initiating Moms Across America and various campaigns...some might say to teach them what I did. But in the end, I ended up learning much more about what is possible for not just Japan and the USA, but what is possible for all of humankind if we take actions based on the principles of cooperatives like the ones I met with. Respect for nature, humans, relationships, animals, and society. If we all had that respect our global food supply would create global wellness, prosperity, and joy for generations to come.

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  • Maggie Harford
    commented 2020-01-13 12:28:27 -0500
    Hello Zen,

    I am so moved by what you have done. It takes sustained and meaningful dedication, personal time, energy, commitment and love to do all the amazing work you do. It also takes a supportive and understanding family. I thank you so much! You spend your energy in beneficial ways.
    This article is very enlightening. For starters I had no idea Japan had the largest grain distribution company in the world.
    Don’t forget to take care of yourself.
    With true gratitude, thank you.

    Maggie Harford
  • Zen Honeycutt
    published this page in Blog 2019-12-23 16:27:39 -0500

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