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Traditional Japanese producers in pickle

TOKYOMay 28 (News On Japan) – Japan’s beloved pickles are facing a crisis. From next month, stricter regulations on pickle production will come into effect, forcing many farmers to give up their pickle production.

Wakayama Prefecture begins Ume harvest amid forecasts of poor yields

The harvest of the famous Nanko Ume, a national brand of Japanese apricots, has begun in Wakayama Prefecture. However, due to the mild winter, this year’s yield is expected to be only 62% of average, which means an unprecedentedly poor harvest.

Ume farmer Yuki Yorimoto stated, “This year’s harvest is as bad as a disaster. In the fifteen years I have been farming, I have never seen such poor yields. It’s a first.’

This poor yield trend is visible nationwide, raising concerns about the impact on umeboshi (pickled plums).

Yorimoto added, “We have suffered major damage from hail bugs and stink bugs this year.”

Pickling crisis: ‘Renovation will cost 2 million yen’

The pickling industry is also threatened by a change in the law. Akiko Yokohata, a 79-year-old ume farmer in Aichi Prefecture, sells homemade umeboshi and pickled plums at a local market. This year she had to renovate her workshop for pickle production.

Yokohata explained, “It cost a lot to renovate. We have been pickling ume here since the beginning, but the request did not go through, so we had to rebuild everything.’

The reason was the amendment of the Food Sanitation Act. From July 1, the production and sale of brine will require a business permit, meaning facilities must meet high hygiene standards.

Yokohata explained: ‘We had to replace all wooden surfaces with materials that can be washed with water, including the ceiling and floors. The renovation cost about 2 million yen.”

91-year-old mother’s popular Ume pickles discontinued

Some farmers have decided to stop gherkin production altogether. Kazutaka Kakihara, whose 91-year-old mother makes popular ume pickles, will stop selling them this year. Shoppers expressed regret over the reduction in the number of homemade pickles.

A customer complained: ‘It is difficult for those who work hard to produce delicious umeboshi. It’s sad that we won’t have much choice.’

Overcoming the pickling crisis

The amendment to the Food Hygiene Act was prompted by a 2012 incident in which eight people in Sapporo died from food poisoning caused by lightly pickled Chinese cabbage. This led to increased efforts to ensure food safety, culminating in the revision of the law in 2018.

As a result, pickle production has required a permit since 2021 and those who do not have a permit by June 30 will no longer be able to sell pickles.

Many farmers who cannot meet the strict hygiene standards have chosen to close their businesses. A JA direct sales store in Aichi Prefecture, which used to sell handmade pickles from about 50 farmers, will see the number of suppliers drop to one-tenth of the original number starting next month.

However, some attempts are being made to overcome this crisis. In Akita Prefecture, known for its ‘Iburigakko’ pickles, only 6% of producers wanted to continue in 2021. The prefecture responded with subsidies covering up to a third of the equipment costs (up to 10 million yen), and Yokote City provided additional support.

As a result, a similar survey last year found that about 52% of producers planned to continue in business.

In Shizuoka Prefecture, famous for its ‘Mizukake-nazuke’ pickles, Gotenba City and Oyama Town are also offering subsidies for facility renovation.

The district office JA Fuji Izu Gotenba explained that they are establishing a common processing center that meets the standards of the revised law, to support small producers and producers struggling with renovations.

An official emphasized: “We cannot allow the traditional food culture that has persisted since the Meiji era to decline. We are all working together to protect our food culture.”

Source: ANN

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