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[wpaudio url=”https://www.btbpress.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Food-Labelling.mp3″ text=”Click to listen”]
I bet that a lot of you had already guessed what this week’s topic would be. The story about the mislabelling of food started out with a single company, but it’s beginning to look as though it is standard practice in Japan.

By the way, in case you were wondering about the spelling of “labelling,” it is one of those words that has one “l” in American English but two in British English.

I must admit that when I first heard this story, I was not surprised at all. I think that people believe they are much more sensitive to the taste of food than they actually are, and I think this case proves my point.

After all, if expensive shrimp really tasted all that different from cheaper shrimp, why did nobody realise that they were being served the inferior kind? I think that a lot of people get their satisfaction from the thought that they are paying more for their food, and if they can’t tell the difference, have the companies really done anything wrong?

I read one comment on a Japan Today news article that made me laugh (because I agreed). A lot of foreigners in Japan get tired of hearing people (usually old men) telling them about the superiority and uniqueness of Japanese goods. I read about a restaurant that was serving Australian beef labelled as “wagyu,” and I imagined an arrogant old man paying lots of money for it, eating it, and then saying, やっぱり和牛がいいな!

Anyway, I would like to know what you think about this issue; is this a serious crime, or is it all just a bit of a storm in a teacup?

Look forward to hearing your thoughts.

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25 Comments

  1. Biwa on Tuesday November 12th, 2013 at 12:22 PM

    Hi David,

    Thank you for the explanation on singular and plural nouns. Now I know why I sometimes see “party” or “government” treated as plural.

    Hi everyone,

    >After all, if expensive shrimp really tasted all that different from cheaper shrimp, why did nobody realise that they were being served the inferior kind?

    David’s sentence reminded me that when I first heard the mislabelling news, I wondered how it had come to light in the first place. Was it an insider’s leak or did someone actually realize the difference between “車海老” and “black-tiger”? If it was the latter, that would be amazing!

    Anyway, I think it is quite natural that companies try to add value to their products (goods, food, service or whatever) and earn more money. Customers who think the products are worth the price will just go and buy them. There is no problem there even if the customers couldn’t tell the difference between the ordinary ones and the value-added ones! However, I think the current cases are very nasty because they were lying to the people. For example, travel agencies would never sell an economy-class ticket at a first-class price! I understand that Japanese people trust brands too much, but I guess many people in the US would be angry if ordinary beef was labelled “Angus beef”.



  2. Anne on Tuesday November 12th, 2013 at 10:01 PM

    Hi David and everyone,

    >it’s beginning to look as though it is standard practice in Japan. —I don’t want to admit, but I think so. These problems seem to continue endlessly from hotels to famous department stores. This is nothing new,right? You’ve often heard about these kinds of issues in food from rice to meat in Japan. When I first heard about this scandal, I could easily imagine it would spread. I think there are two reasons why these kinds of deceptions happen. One is very simple: profit comes first. The other reason is the obsession Japanese people have for brand names. Who cares if you are served Iga beef instead of Kobe beef as long as the restaurant shows the true name? But that matters much. Many newspapers show this issue as “mislabeling”, but are they really mislabeled? They were intentional, weren’t they? All the executives made excuses that they didn’t do anything intentionally, but who believe their words?

    Maybe we need just to enjoy foods and should not apreciate the label.

    I know some farmers who are my frined’s frineds that are battling to produce good organic foods. Recent news made me feel sad. Anyway, I still believe Japanese food is great:

    >I bet that a lot of you had already guessed what this week’s topic would be
    —-Yes, I did!!!



  3. Fumie on Tuesday November 12th, 2013 at 10:51 PM

    Hi David and everyone,

    It is a timely topic! Food labelling fraud is revealing almost everyday. We can’t trust any foods, any restaurants. Having said that Japanese people are particular about bland name food(goods.)
    I don’t care whether the food is bland one or not as far as the food is tasty and not unsafe (the quality is not bad.) Still I can’t deny that when I hear/see bland name foods like Matuzakagyu, Tokachi-something, I kind of feel they seem delicious. So when I go shopping to buy milk for example, I choose Hokkaido one if the price is not expensive.

    >I think that a lot of people get their satisfaction from the thought that they are paying more for their food, and if they can’t tell the difference, have the companies really done anything wrong?
    – I think those are wrongdoings because they kind of overcharged customers. If I were a customer, I would ask them to pay the difference.
    The government should punish the companies which did such fraud properly: force them to pay fine or close the shop for certain times. If those law was enforced these problems would decrease.



  4. kiyosi on Tuesday November 12th, 2013 at 11:08 PM

    Hi DaiviD and everyone

    Sorry、my break the conversation’s back

    >> Anyway, I would like to know what you think about this issue; is this a serious crime, or is it all just a bit of a storm in a teacup?

    On this issue, frankly speaking, I think this issue is a one of serious problem in Japan society, but I have no practical impact directly on this issue ,so that it don’t make me so angry.

    I think that this issue is one of expose of difficulty with existing in service industry, especially, the things regarding to the food section in Hotel, Restaurant ,or Department store.

    Because they don’t need to explain and declare the right quality of food labeling with evidence directly ,when they sell the food items to final customer.
    So it mean, I think that the right quality of food labeling is being kept under company policy with high ethical sense.

    As far as I remember, the first company( Hotel at kansai area) which held a press conference, they disclose the improper labeling issue in accordance with their company compliance policy.
    So they have also a big courage and dilemma for keeping the company policy and their brand when they disclose the negative issue.
    So it mean they have to consider the way of disclosure and the influence on society sincerely



  5. YU on Wednesday November 13th, 2013 at 12:31 AM

    Hi everyone,

    I talked over this issue with my husband a couple of days ago. We both agreed with that finally family restaurants are more reliable than first-class restaurants or hotels because they usually tell us honestly from the beginning that they use Brazilian chicken or Mexican pork!

    > is this a serious crime, or is it all just a bit of a storm in a teacup?

    I thought it was not such a serious crime at first, but after I heard that 成型肉 with allergen had used for a children’s lunch labelled 和牛ステーキ at a long-established ryokan in Nara prefecture, I began to think that it was no longer an issue that could be excused with sorry. If worst comes to worst, it could take someone’s life!
    So, in this sense I think mislabelling of food is more vicious and sinful than selling us false brand name bags or clothes.



  6. Kiyoshi on Wednesday November 13th, 2013 at 12:37 AM

    Hi David and everyone.

    Sorry, I change the name spelling to “Kiyoshi”.

    Thank you.



  7. Biwa on Wednesday November 13th, 2013 at 12:29 PM

    Hi Kiyoshi, YU and everyone,

    >So it mean, I think that the right quality of food labeling is being kept under company policy with high ethical sense.

    >If worst comes to worst, it could take someone’s life!

    I totally agree with you.
    Companies should bear in mind that people pay more money for their sincerity especially when the value of the products or services cannot be seen. It’s easy to see why you pay more for an iPhone5s than for a 5c! It’s obvious because the functions and material is all different. However, I guess very few people can tell the difference between organic vegetables and some others with lots of pesticide. I buy vegetables from らでぃっしゅぼーや, and I pay a bit more than I would at the local supermarket because I trust them. I would be really mad if they lie to me.

    Anyway, I think the comapanies should realize that they have done something more serious. I don’t think they should be forgiven by just bowing or making excuses to people.

    Hi Fumie,

    I know it’s just a simple mistake, but ブランドshould be “brand.”



  8. Biwa on Wednesday November 13th, 2013 at 01:14 PM

    correction:

    >I would be really mad if they lie to me.
    ⇒I would be really mad if they lied to me.



  9. YU on Wednesday November 13th, 2013 at 05:48 PM

    Hi David,

    I forgot to mention this.
    It’s very difficult to explain the differences, but what you meant was やっぱり和牛 ‘は’ いいな!, I guess.

    >I think that a lot of people get their satisfaction from the thought that they are paying more for their food, and if they can’t tell the difference, have the companies really done anything wrong?

    If so, wouldn’t you really get angry if someone palmed you off with a fake ROLEX? It sounds like you’re saying that victims who can’t tell the difference are more to be blamed than perpetrators…
    Anyway, I think it’s difinitely a crime(fraud) regardless of the food or watch.
    As Anne mentioned, people pay more money for their steaks because they believe that it is expensive beef. If they had said “it is cheaper beef” honestly and the price had been reasonable, no one would have been angry with them.

    Having said that, I’m tired of people who show off their knowledge about wine pretending to know everything, too!

    Hi Fumie,

    > I think those are wrongdoings because they kind of overcharged customers. If I were a customer, I would ask them to pay the difference

    Same here.
    In fact, most hotels, restaurants and department stores seem to accept giving refunds to customers this time.

    Hi Anne,

    I wonder what “Iga” beef is to you(people in Tokai area)…
    By the way, I ate Kobe beef steak at a famous steak house when I visited Kobe with my family this summer. They grilled our steaks in front of us and it tasted very good. I hope it was real Kobe beef!!



  10. Fumie on Wednesday November 13th, 2013 at 10:01 PM

    Hi Biwa,

    Thank you for pointing out my mistake.
    I didn’t notice the misspelling at all.

    Hi YU,

    I’m glad you and I are agreed.



  11. Kiyoshi on Thursday November 14th, 2013 at 01:31 AM

    Hi Biwa

    Thank you for your feedback
    I’m glad to hear of it.

    Hi everyone

    >> Anyway, I think the companies should realize that they have done something more serious. I don’t think they should be forgiven by just bowing or making excuses to people.
    >>I thought it was not such a serious crime at first, but after I heard that 成型肉 with allergen had used for a children’s lunch labelled 和牛ステーキ at a long-established ryokan in Nara prefecture, I began to think that it was no longer an issue that could be excused with sorry. If worst comes to worst, it could take someone’s life!

    Though above are a comments from Biwa and YU, I feel that these comments represent the voice of many Japanese women.
    Why I say like that, my wife say a similar things repeatedly when she watch this labeling issue over the TV.

    As for me, when I hear my wife’s this angry voice, I feel naturally why she can get angry so seriously, even though she don’t go out for dinner to high class restaurant at every time.

    When I consider above sentence, if a greater number of Japanese woman can raise their voice in their everyday lives like all of you in this blog, it will be effect as big power for maintain the social justice.

    Though it is a speaking to myself, I want to place my hope on this women’s power.

    Thank you.



  12. Anne on Thursday November 14th, 2013 at 08:26 AM

    Hi Yu,

    As for ‘Iga beef’, I should have explained more clearly. Actually, I don’t remember the content well, but I read the news that some restaurant showed “Kobe beef” on the menu, but it turned out to be “Iga beef(伊賀牛).” I know Kobe beef is really tasty, but as you mentioned, if you can eat at a reasonable price, situation would be different.

    >I began to think that it was no longer an issue that could be excused with sorry.— I couldn’t agree with you more!

    > what you meant was やっぱり和牛 ‘は’ いいな!, I guess—I grinned at your comment. Yes, you are right!

    Hi Everyone,
    I wonder these kinds of scandals are happening(have happened?) outside Japan.



  13. Biwa on Thursday November 14th, 2013 at 10:22 AM

    Hi Kiyoshi,

    I’m glad to know that your wife feels the same about this issue. As you say, I guess women are more sensitive to these insincere labeling problems because we want to serve safe food as much as possible to our family. What you choose is up to each person, but at least, we should be able to know the true ingredients or origin of our food.

    Hi Anne and everyone,

    >I wonder these kinds of scandals are happening(have happened?) outside Japan.

    I’d like to know that, too!
    By the way, I think the current issue has two sides. One is that the companies were insincere to the consumers. I think they definitely have the responsibility to disclose the information of their food as much as possible. And I think companies are starting to realize that (I hope!)because in the long run, consumers will just stop buying things from insincere companies. This applies not only to food but also cosmetics and all other things.

    The other side of this story is that, as most of the members have pointed out, Japanese people praise brands too much. I’m not really sure if people from other countries do, too, but I guess they have specialities of certain regions as well. And I think they would pay more for them, wouldn’t they?

    However, I often notice that American people focus more on the preference of the food than the taste itself. I mean, they would say “Do you like it?” instead of “おいしいですか?(Is it tasty?)” I think they have a point there because the sense of taste is something very personal, not a common standard. Everyone has a different sense of taste, and even if it was a branded food, it doesn’t mean that everyone likes it. Personally, I don’t like people who say as if I were lacking the sense of taste when I say I don’ like 和牛so much. It’s often too fatty for me. There are also a lot of things that I can’t tell any difference between the taste, but I can say if I like it or not!



  14. YU on Thursday November 14th, 2013 at 10:46 AM

    Hi Anne,

    I see. “Iga beef” itself has nothing to do with the affair, but it just got involved in the matter and looks as though it is a kind of cheaper beef! Poor Iga beef!

    Hi Anne, Biwa, and everyone,

    > I wonder these kinds of scandals are happening(have happened?) outside Japan.

    I have a feeling that things like that is quite common in China(rice, baby milk powder, pet food, etc…). They might be a bit different types of labelling issues from ours, though…
    Anyway, in China’s case, the instances are too numerous to recall!
    They sometimes do a lot more daring things than we do. For example, I remember the news that some restaurant in Beijing served guests mouse meat instead of mutton! You can easily imagine that it must be often the case in many other restaurants in China, too!

    In Europe, IKEA’s food labelling scandals were exposed this year, too. If I remember correctly, I think that horse meat was used in their meatballs. The interesting fact to me was that many European people were angry with IKEA not only about they used different meat, but also about why they used horse meat all of (animals’)meat. Japanese people might not become sentimental hearing the news very much, but they seem to be different from us because horses are one of the loveliest animals for them!

    Hi Kiyoshi,

    When I heard the case at the ryokan in Nara, I couldn’t help remembering the news that an elementary schoolchild died of food allergies after eating school lunch a couple of months ago. As you know, a lot of children have food allergies today, and their parents always pay the utmost care and attention to it, so I couldn’t be indifferent to the Nara’s case particularly.



  15. mt on Thursday November 14th, 2013 at 12:30 PM

    Hi everyone.
    Good mroning,

    In the case of Shanghai (China), this kind of fraud is common thing unfortunatelly.
    As YU already pointed out, the mouse meat was used instead of mutton in shabushabu restaurant.
    The market of emitation product is very popular for not only local people but also foreigners.

    By the way, I imagined the feeling and situation of person in charge of this hotel or restaurant when I heard this news.

    If I were a pesrson in charge of this hotel, what can I do something?

    If I were a new employee of this hotel and boss ordered to me to conceal the fact, can I resist his order?

    If I were a manager of this hotel and the heard some employee did something fraud thing, but I still not get confirmation of the fraud fact, how should I deal with the problem?

    Should I stop the service immediately before getting confirmation?
    Or fisrt of all should I confirm the fact?

    I cannot answere for this question right now, but I feel that I should think more seriously about my job if there is a same situation or not.



  16. YU on Thursday November 14th, 2013 at 01:43 PM

    Hi mt and everyone,

    I know it’s not easy to disobey your boss, but still I think what they had been doing for many years was thoughtless and insincere in the first place.

    The chef(料理長) of 阪急阪神ホテル was explaining at their press conference of apology that 小エビ were usually called 芝海老 in the world of chinese cooks, so he never thought that he was doing something wrong. If his story was true and if I were a new employee, I might just have followed the custom, too. However, the problem is that customs in their world aren’t always the same as ones in the public. None of us would imagine cheap 小エビ hearing 芝海老.

    They can follow customs of their own in their kitchen as they like, but they should never expect that guests know their unique customs, too. If they only remembered the times before they became a cook, they would know things like that very easily!



  17. Biwa on Thursday November 14th, 2013 at 03:29 PM

    Hi YU,

    >so I couldn’t be indifferent to the Nara’s case particularly.

    Me, either!
    I have a different reason why I get so nervous about sincere disclosure. My sons aren’t allergic to anything in particular, but I had a really scary experience several years ago. My younger son was eating a piece of dried apricots, and he suddenly said “My throat feels itchy!” And then he began to have difficulty in breathing.(軽い呼吸困難) He recovered after 15 minutes or so, so luckily, nothing was that serious. However, I was quite sure that it had something to do with the apricots, so I checked out the ingredients written on the packet. It had only two things: “apricots, sulfur dioxide(二酸化硫黄)”. I googled 二酸化硫黄, and found out that it was also called 亜硫酸ガス. It said that it was often used to preserve the color of the food, but many 呼吸困難 cases had been reported. Isn’t that scary? Why do they use such dangerous chemical for food? My son was just lucky, I guess. Anyway, I got really scared, but at the same time, I was glad they had written what they were using. Now I know I should never buy any food containing 二酸化硫黄.



  18. Fumie on Thursday November 14th, 2013 at 11:12 PM

    Hi Biwa,

    >Why do they use such dangerous chemical for food?
    -You must be really worried when his son claimed he had breathing difficulty. A lot of chemicals are used to keep the food fresh, look good, taste good, etc. Their aim is to produce products with little cost but looks good/tastes good.
    We(consumers) should also have good eyes/palate to distinguish good one from bad one.



  19. Kiyoshi on Friday November 15th, 2013 at 12:18 AM

    Hi Biwa and YU

    I enjoy reading your comment now.
    I can learn a lot from talking with you.
    Thank you.

    Hi Anne and everyone

    >>I wonder these kinds of scandals are happening(have happened?) outside Japan.

    I will try to search other case example also.

    Sorry , I go to bed early today.

    Good night.



  20. amo on Friday November 15th, 2013 at 12:30 AM

    HI David,

    >is this a serious crime, or is it all just a bit of a storm in a teacup?

    Of course, it’s a serious crime, because they obtained money by fraud.

    Hi Kiyoshi,

    >Because they don’t need to explain and declare the right quality of food labeling with evidence directly ,when they sell the food items to final customer.
So it mean, I think that the right quality of food labeling is being kept under company policy with high ethical sense.

    I totally agree with you, that’s why i really can’t stand this kind of fraud. You can’t tell where the foods come from at restaurants or hotels. You just trust their menus, I mean, people want to believe that hotels and restaurants are doing the right thing.

    Hi Anne,

    >I wonder these kinds of scandals are happening(have happened?) outside Japan.

    Yes, it happens in other countries. if my memory serves me correct, David did mention a food scandal(horse meat) in the UK several months ago. I have heard that seafood fraud labeling in the US. For example, tilapia is sold as grouper and atlantic farmed salmon is sold as wild chinook salmon. It’s a big issue in the US I suppose. If you google “seafood fraud” you can find the details.

    Good night and sleep tight 🙂
    amo



  21. Anne on Friday November 15th, 2013 at 09:53 AM

    Hi Kiyoshi, amo and everyone,

    Thanks.
    amo, yes, I remember that scandal.

    I googled “food mislabeling” and hit lots of articles.
    Here’s one of them I found interesting from the Boston Globe:
    “One the menu, but not on the plate”

    http://www.boston.com/business/articles/2011/10/23/on_the_menu_but_not_on_your_plate/

    I wonder how long this scandal continues. As Biwa and other members mentioned, you can’t be indifferent about food labels and packaging when you buy foods at the supermarkets. At least, you can check them, but recent scandals at restaurants look a bit different for me. Anyway, if you feel tasty, is that the real thing?



  22. YU on Friday November 15th, 2013 at 11:57 AM

    Hi Anne,

    Thank you for the interesting article.
    It reminded me of the TV report I happened to watch a couple of years ago saying that almost all 寿司ネタ at 回転寿司 restaurants were substitutes. That means, we are always satisfied with having 偽装ネタ!

    > Anyway, if you feel tasty, is that the real thing?

    I’m not very sure what you mean, but you mean ;

    1. “It doesn’t really matter whether it is real or not as long as customers are satisfied with the taste?”?

    2. “If most people can feel that a substitute for some food is delicious, do you think it is no longer just a substitute, but you could even call it a real one?” ?

    or something else?

    >“Sushi chefs have called this species white tuna for many years.”

    But average people like us don’t think that they are the same fish!

    “We’re doing it how everybody does it.”

    Old bad customs die hard!

    Hi Kiyoshi,

    I always learn a lot from other members and David, too.



  23. Anne on Friday November 15th, 2013 at 02:30 PM

    Hi YU,

    >I’m not very sure what you mean, but you mean ;
    >2. “If most people can feel that a substitute for some food is delicious, do you think it is no longer just a substitute, but you could even call it a real one?” ?
    —-Yes, it’s close. No.2 is what I meant to say. Thanks for your explanation. In that situation, each restaurant need to show real name. Also,what I thought is that “芝エビでもバナエビでも、おいしければエビに罪があるわけでなし、表記されていればどちらでもいいじゃない?” Having said that, I’m care about ingredients. Fast food is often cooked to taste good, but once you know how chicken nuggets were made, it’s kind of scary,isn’t it?



  24. Biwa on Friday November 15th, 2013 at 02:46 PM

    Hi Fumie,

    >We(consumers) should also have good eyes/palate to distinguish good one from bad one.

    Exactly, but it seems almost impossible to avoid all chemicals unless we grow or make everything for ourselves. I also understand that sometimes we have no other choice but to use some chemicals to prevent more serious harm such as food poisoning. (e.g. 亜硝酸ナトリウムadded in ham and sausages to prevent食中毒)
    However, thinking too much about safety of food just spoils the fun of eating. Don’t you think so? Honestly, I’d just try to choose the less evil. And I think, sincere information disclosure is essential for us to do that.

    Hi amo and everyone,

    I googled “seafood fraud”, and agreed with an article that said “Adding more confusion, the naming standards for seafood aren’t consistent from state to state.”
    I can’t think of a good example right now, but I think this is likely to happen everywhere around the world. Moreover, since seafood are not industrial goods, they don’t have model numbers, do they! It must be quite difficult to distinguish each subspecies even for professionals. And I think this is the most trickiest part of the whole mislabeling story.

    Hi Anne,

    >“芝エビでもバナエビでも、おいしければエビに罪があるわけでなし、表記されていればどちらでもいいじゃない?”

    If the restaurants had served the food at a reasonable price, I really think so.



  25. Biwa on Friday November 15th, 2013 at 03:00 PM

    correction:

    >the most trickiest part ⇒the trickiest part!!



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