China turns to Japan for safer ‘luxury’ rice

2015-01-26 11:45

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

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

A study by the Ministry of Environmental Protection last April estimated that 16.1% 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 $12/kg on PinStore, an online supermarket run by Japanese trading house Sumitomo Corp. Domestic rice sells there for as little as $1.2/kg.

Online purchasing

As demand grows, Chinese consumers are increasingly turning to online platforms such as Taobao, run by Alibaba, to buy rice directly from individuals in Japan.

One person seems to have paid as much as $241 for five kilograms, according to Taobao.

Steep prices, though, are no deterrent for some.

"Much tastier than Chinese rice. Worth every cent - great texture and taste," one delighted buyer wrote on Taobao.

To meet demand, some Chinese producers now say they use Japanese seeds and promote their rice as a safer alternative to purely domestic strains.

Zhejiang Xinxie Yueguang Agricultural Science and Technology says its Echizen brand rice is safe and grown with "water from pure sources and strict quality control". The packaging says the rice is a Japanese variety.

But Echizen rice is grown in Changxing county, a hub of lead-acid battery production in eastern Zhejiang province. Battery production can be highly polluting.

Li Jun, general manager at Zhejiang Xinxie Yueguang, insisted the company's rice had passed tests for lead, cadmium, mercury, pesticides and other chemicals by state inspectors.

The company had also found other areas to grow rice where there was less concern about pollution, Li said.

Rice consumption

The Chinese eat around 120m tonnes of rice a year and the country imported more than 2.2m tonnes in the first 11 months of 2014, including 1.2m tonnes from Vietnam and 626 000 tonnes from Thailand, customs data shows.

Japan is a small rice exporter - just 3 777 tonnes in January to November 2014, according to agriculture ministry data - but it is looking to boost shipments to Asian countries as part of a wider push to export more agricultural products.

However, if the trend to China looks encouraging, any further increase through normal export channels may be slow: the Chinese authorities have given just one Japanese rice mill clearance to send polished rice.

Others have begun an application process but that has stalled. Some would-be suppliers have been waiting for three years, a Japanese government official said.

Read more on:    china  |  japan  |  environment

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Man scores date with tennis superstar after Twitter bet

It’s a modern day Cinderella story, but one American man took ‘shoot your shot’ seriously in 2017.


You won't want to miss...

Who are the highest paid models of 2017?
10 gorgeous plus-sized models who aren't Ashley Graham
5 top leg exercises for men
10 best dressed men of 2017
Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.