Japanese rice: the new, safe luxury food in China

Sun Jan 25, 2015 4:16pm EST
 
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By Alexandra Harney and Yuka Obayashi

SHANGHAI/TOKYO (Reuters) - First it was European infant formula, then New Zealand milk. Now Chinese consumers are adding Japanese rice to the list of everyday foods they will bring in from abroad at luxury-good prices because they fear the local alternatives aren't safe.

The volume of rice imported from China remains small - 160 tonnes last year, according to Japan's National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations.

But that is more than triple the total in 2013, a trend that illustrates Chinese consumers' dwindling confidence in the safety of the country's own agricultural produce.

"Chinese rice farmers use pesticides," said a seller identified as Ying Ying, who started offering Japanese rice on the Taobao online marketplace last August. "Japanese rice isn't polluted by heavy metals."

Pollution from industrialization has exacted a heavy toll on China's soil and water. In May 2013, officials in Guangdong province in southern China said 44 percent of rice samples contained excessive levels of the metal cadmium.

A study by the Ministry of Environmental Protection last April estimated that 16.1 percent of China's soil was contaminated. In parts of the country, soil pollution is so bad that some rice farmers refuse to eat what they grow.

After the cadmium revelations, some Chinese consumers began to see rice from Thailand as an affordable and safe substitute.

In contrast, Japanese rice is neither cheap nor easy to find in China. Japanese rice imported by Chinese grain trader COFCO sells for 74 Chinese yuan ($12) a kg on PinStore, an online supermarket run by Japanese trading house Sumitomo Corp. Domestic rice sells there for as little as 7.5 yuan per kg.   Continued...

 
People stand in front of stalks of rice plants at a rice paddy in Minami-Uonuma, north of Tokyo in this October 18, 2007 file photo.    REUTERS/Toru Hanai