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Tracing meat - Japan has the right idea

26 Comments
By Randy Poehlman

Factory farms are feeding millions of people globally with suspect sources of unsustainable beef, pork and chickens. These large scale producers of livestock in the United States and Canada have been jeopardizing the food supply.

According to the www.sustainabletable.org, a website devoted to changing the way we think about our food, the problems associated with factory farming include excessive numbers of animals confined closely together, disregard for animal welfare, misuse of pharmaceuticals, mismanagement of animal waste, and socially irresponsible corporate ownership.

In the documentary film "Food Inc," released in 2008, Robert Kenner takes the veil off North American factory food production and exposes the underlying and inherent problems associated with the disconnect between customers and consumers with the farmers and companies that increasingly supply their meat. The film and subsequent book make it very clear that the small group of companies that control the North American food production are unwilling to discuss their business to journalists or the media. These North American companies are beyond secretive, and have often resorted to lawsuits and thinly hidden threats if anyone associated with their business speaks publicly or cooperates in anyway with journalists or documentary filmmakers.

However, Japanese companies and government agencies have been focusing on informing customers, in stark contradiction to North American producers. In June of 2003, the Japanese government passed legislation requiring traceability from the farm through retail sale. On Japanese beef, there exists a 10-digit Individual Identification Number that each cow is assigned at birth (with an ear tag) and this number follows the cow through his life, slaughter and sale to the end customer. The process was put in place after the outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in the local Japanese cattle herd.

As part of the traceability efforts, Japanese consumers have access to various facts about the meat they purchase and consume. This information is available at the point of retail, in real time. Japanese corporations also helped lead the push on meat traceability and it was not something forced on them by government officials and regulators.

"The Aeon Company has developed one of the most comprehensive assurance systems for domestic Wagyu beef. Under this system, customers can enter a 10-digit code into a computer located in the meat sales area to obtain information about the beef they are purchasing. The consumer can obtain a production record certificate that traces the meat back to the birth of the animal from which it was harvested, the BSE testing certificate, and a photograph of the livestock producer(s). This information is also accessible from the customer's home computer,” reports a 2003 article at the outset of the new traceability regulations.

Currently, a Japanese customer can walk into a local grocery store equipped with a cell phone and find out the following information about the piece of steak they are going to buy -- birth date, sex, breed, location of cattle, transfer status, transfer date and the owners name and address courtesy of the following website, which surprisingly is available in both English and Japanese (www.id.nlbc.go.jp/english/). Many meat specialty shops will verbally provide customers this information as they interact with shop staff.

The Japanese traceability system ensures customers that their beef is safe, and with such free-flowing information, provides a model of success that North American consumers should be taking note of. Japanese food companies have been putting pictures of the farmers and producers of food supplies on packaging for years.

I recently noticed there was a picture on the label of my delicious pastry, as I opened it. It was then explained to me that this system helps Japanese customers feel connected with the producer or farmer. Further than that, it also logically affects the attitude of the farmer or producer. It makes the person directly responsible for the food known to the consumer who will eat the product. This in turn makes the producer more responsible and lowers the chance for negligence. The information provided through a trace of the Individual Identification Number provides the farmer’s name and address, having the same influence on his actions to act responsible.

North America needs to move in the direction Japan has regarding traceability of food sources, specifically meat. The big American food suppliers might be a touch more trust worthy if they were willing to offer all relevant information on animal products at the touch of a button.

© Japan Today

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

26 Comments
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THis is not common in Jpaan. To say it is is a blantant untruth. I was theer recently fore a month. This was not available anywhere i went and this includws Aeon group shops.

How can stories full of fibs be allowed here?> Beyond beleif. Well let me say something about Japanese meat. It is laced with hormaones and antibiotics and is banmned in the EU because of low hygiene standards, though Thailand and other Asian countries are not banned.

This kind of lovey dovey Japan feel good nonsense is ill informed and either deliberately untruthfull or untruthfull due to ignorance.

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And yet every week we read about a Japanese food company that has been selling falsely labeled food products for years.

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oldsmokey; I totally agree with you. Double standars come to mind methin ks.

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Where are these computers and which stores have this information? I haven't seen anything like this since 2003.....since in reality, most of the meat is sold in mom n pop meat shops and small 'supers', I cant imagine they have the funds to promote this kind of program. Any body in kansai seen this promoted?

I usually buy aussie beef because as far as I know, they are still BSE free. Since most hamburger is mixed with pork here, do they trace the pigs too?

The pastry had a picture of the farmer? Yeah, when you by 50 dollar cantalopes and J beef at 20 bucks a pound, I am sure the farmer comes n shakes your hand, but how many of us are buying those specialty products for daily consumption?

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Organic vegetables are the biggest danger. They are usually grown, literally, in sh*te, and so contain tons of highly dangerous bacteria. The huge and recent food poisoning incident in the US came from organic spinach, causing salmonella outbreaks. Funny how the food advocates like the author overlook such incidents and are obsessed with cows. How many people have died of BSE throughout the history of the world? 140? Chicken is about a million times more dangerous.

In addition, the author seems to be unware of the extensive series of food-labeling scandals in Japan in recent years. In this area, Japan is anything but a model.

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JefLee; I take it you are fro m the good ole USA. Organic food is much safer, only human shi*te as you so elequantly put it is a danger to humnas. Japan ranks low in food safety, eg, Japans many noodles are banned in EU due to high MSG. Japan adds hormones to dairl, beef cattle, chicken and other meats. The authur is ignorant. Japan has no idea would be a correct title.

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JeffLee: Organic vegetables are the biggest danger. They are usually grown, literally, in sh*te, and so contain tons of highly dangerous bacteria.

You are supposed to wash that off Jeff! But good luck washing the fertizers and pesticides that penetrated the plant out. And cooking kills bacteria.

Chicken is about a million times more dangerous.

Again Jeff, you are supposed to wash your food. Even a raccoon knows this. Cooking completely also helps. BSE doesn't wash off however, nor does it cook out.

As for the article, it the first I have heard of this tracking system. I will have to go see if its real. But I think the disconnect should be cured by people ordering their meat online, where they have to click on the cow the be slaughtered. But before the order process starts, a one minute video of a cow getting slaughtered should be played. Oh, people may avoid it, but at least the act of avoidance will be a reminder of what they do. And a constant video feed of the conditions of the farm you access should be available 24/7 and the first thing you see when you call up their website.

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Dontknockit-

Great ideas, pls implement them immediately.

Food is the most central after oxygen. It's poisoned, mis-handled, gentetically changed. What are we to do?

I don't know about this beef-tracking system, but I would say that overall food in Japan is safe. There have been various companies lying, but overall the craftsman's ethic is still stronger than the capitalist's ethic here. Well maybe not. The craftsman's ethic is on its last legs, I think, but still stronger than the US where it is nearly non-existant. (Craftsman's ethic= you want to make a good product no matter what. The quality of your product is what you base your name and identity on.)

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Food traceability - Instead of holding Japan up as a shining example, you would be better off talking about Australia (Beef) or New Zealand (Kiwifruit), both of which have had traceability programs up and running for decades. Actually, on the issue of beef, Japan only got serious about traceability after the bone-meal/mad cow scare.

On the other hand, despite being such a great country, the US has been unable to get traceability up and running.

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Japan ?? Biggest bs story of the year.

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why pick on the US? there's so many countries out there that have livestock industries in worse shape, some of them with a large % of GDP. Yeah, things in the US need to improve a lot, but it's not only the US.

I heard a lot of stories about Wagyu getting raised under extreme conditions.

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[These North American companies are beyond secretive, and have often resorted to lawsuits and thinly hidden threats if anyone associated with their business speaks publicly or cooperates in anyway with journalists or documentary filmmakers. ] ---- Holy Cow!! Did Michael Moore write this?

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PepinGalarga: why pick on the US?

People discuss what they know, not what they don't know. And the reason they know more about the U.S. is a complementary reason: its the place they think they have the greatest chance of either making a positive change or getting the change recognized. As an American, I am proud that its not us that is viewed as hopeless, and that when people see Japanese problems they usually think "shoganai". We get a sort of tough love. Japan more often just gets ignored.

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Chris Biggins could you please give evidence to substantiate your comment that Japanese meat is banned in the EU. I googled for this and couldn't find anything. Actually I only found cases stating the opposite-EU meat being banned in Japan, Australia, New Zealand etc. because of foot and mouth disease,BSE etc.

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I found this article a bit strange. It started off talking about factory farming and animal welfare, and then the rest was about traceability. Frankly, I'm also worried about how animals are treated here. I've seen Japanese farmers on TV proud of their battery hens, and cows and pigs behind bars, in small confined spaces. I'd think many people in places like UK would be too embarrassed to brag about this. It would be nice if there were more info about this as well as traceability, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

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The meat that is cheap enough for people to be able to afford on a regular basis has been produced by cutting corners and abusing the animal. Never mind a picture of the farmer on the packet, how about a picture of Daisy the cow (or more likely Cow No. 123456) relaxing in a nice green meadow (or more likely standing in a concrete stall with not enough room to turn around) and chewing the sweet green grass (or more likely chowing down on indigestible grain-based 'feed' laced with antibiotics, growth hormone and chicken litter), side by side with another picture of her having brains knocked out (ooops can't do that any more because of BSE, more likely getting electrocuted or having her throat slit and left to bleed slowly to death if she's kosher or halal).

I don't understand how anyone with even the faintest idea of how their meat gets to their plate can have the appetite to eat it.

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Interesting talking about traceability and saying Canada can't do it.. we have the same system of tags assigned at birth and we can track cattle all the way to the market - the only difference is that it is not put on the label for consumers (otoh CFIA can find out all the details instantly.) in fact in the last year we switched from ear tags with code numbers to rfid which can be read by remote readers even because ear tags have to be manually handled. When calves are born they are ssigned a ear tag with the number and a rfid chip, when this animal is moved it is recorded for the CFIA. when it is slaughtered it is recorded by the CFIA ... when it is shipped out to stores the packers must keep track of this information for the CFIA.

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[I don't understand how anyone with even the faintest idea of how their meat gets to their plate can have the appetite to eat it.]

I don't understand how veggies with even the faintest idea of how their veggies get to their plates can eat their salad knowing what it was fertilized in.

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bushlover -

http://www.organicconsumers.org/Toxic/ecoli0702.cfm

http://www.mercola.com/article/irradiated/irradiation_safety.htm

http://www.citizen.org/pressroom/release.cfm?ID=1260

Enjoy that burger.

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cleo

Aussie and NZ beef (and lamb) comes from cows (and sheep) that graze in pastures. I have no problems eating that.

I did see a Jamie Oliver special about how most chickens are raised and in most cases it is just obscene. Better labling to let the consumer decide would be a step in the right direction, but actually one eats egg products in a variety of ways that you don't necessarily know where the egg comes from (eg. mayonaise). So in reality it is difficult to avoid eating produce from tortured chickens.

I don't go in for organic farming either. Not convinced it does anything except put food prices up.

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choucreme; Banned it is love, along with manner Japanese products. The latest banned from the UK was fish products due to low hygiene standards of storage and processing.

Japan has a terrible record of fraudulent claims about its food, especially from the source. I would take most of their claims with a pinch of salt until they clean up their act.

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in reality it is difficult to avoid eating produce from tortured chickens.

There's always the option of choosing not to eat produce from any chickens, then you're pretty sure you're avoiding the tortured ones.

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cleo

There's always the option of choosing not to eat produce from any chickens, then you're pretty sure you're avoiding the tortured ones.

Except that I really like egg based products. So not an option that I'm willing to take.

The good news is that supermarkets and some producers in England are making changes based on the Jamie Oliver show. It shows that public pressure can change things. (Even if it is just a little.)

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Someone up the top of the thread insists he or she has never seen or heard of the beef labeling mentioned in the article. Well, perhaps he or she should actually look at a packet of Japanese beef next time he or she goes to the supermarket. I looked yesterday, because I'd never known of it either, and sure enough there's the number on the packet. As to whether or not the shop can access the info for you would probably depend on the shop, but the info is certainly on the pack so if that part's true I guess the rest probably is too.

You people are right that Japan is a bit of a dodgy example to hold up though, but Japanese beef is the exception to the rule it would seem. With prices that high it damned well ought to be.

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In June of 2003, the Japanese government passed legislation requiring traceability from the farm through retail sale.

Many supermakrets in England have been doing this for years.

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I'm really impressed that this site can be viewed in English. We need more of this in Japan!

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