TT-486 -- A Possible Solution for Tainted Food, ebiz news from Japan

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A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd.

General Edition Sunday, September 21, 2008 Issue No. 486


- What's new
- News
- Candidate roundup/Vacancies
- Upcoming events
- Corrections/Feedback
- News credits

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The news this last week has been dominated by two strong
alternating images which really speak to the realignment of
world business and power. The first was of course the near
meltdown of the U.S. economic system, with the collapse of
Lehman Brothers, the rescue of AIG, and the buy-out of
Merrill Lynch. Looking at these events unfold, we were
reminded that the laws of nature certainly do apply to
economics, even though these basic laws (e.g., you can only
spend what you earn, what goes up must come down, etc.)
have been skillfully postponed and re-routed by Greenspan
and co., over the last decade.

Despite the quick and decisive action of the U.S. Treasury,
we suspect that the financial meltdown is far from over.
You can't print up half a trillion dollars and throw them
at 4 essentially bankrupt companies (Bear Sterns, Fannie
Mae and Freddie Mac, and AIG) and not expect to devalue
your currency or stoke inflation. We do find it interesting
how Paulson and co. have managed to get the central banks
of other major western (plus Japan's) economies to come
along for the ride and share the pain. Certainly this will
help keep the dollar from dropping for another few months
-- perhaps at least until after the elections.

Then of course, there are those US$6trn worth of
non-transparent CDS derivatives floating around in the
financial system, which still have to be accounted for
or settled. No one really knows what the fall-out from
settling these will be -- especially since some of their
issuers are now no longer in business.

The contrasting image in the news was of China, now the USA's
largest economic competitor, and shows that that country is also
running into the realities of its own systemic problems. The
China event was a meltdown of public trust (we think economic
and political problems are still to come), with the
Melamine-in-the-Milk-Powder scandal. Images of hundreds and
now apparently thousands of babies lying sick in hospital
due to contamination of infant milk formula is creating a
level of anger rarely allowed to surface in that country.

[Continued below...]

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[...Article continues]

We feel that the China incident points to the fact that you
can't take a country that just 20 years ago was an economic
and educational backwater, and expect it to suddenly start
behaving like a modern fully functional state. Peasant
attitudes borne of a harsh life economically and high
mortality rate still linger just below the surface, and as
Japan has proven, you need at least 1-2 generations of
educated citizens to adopt a set of values that they
actually believe in and will work towards. Values such as
the sanctity of human life, rule of law, government for the
people, clean and safe living environment, safe food, etc.
are still in short supply in China.

While in the past a third world country's internal
development was naturally regulated by its own ability to
educate and provide for its population, gradually
interconnecting with global commerce, the advent of
first-world companies jumping head-first into China (and
now India and Vietnam) with bags of cash and large, modern
plants and technology, has turned the natural order of
things on its head. Because of this, it's no wonder that
those not working in the factories, the farmers in
particular, have looked on with envy at the newfound wealth
and status of their luckier worker-bee compatriots.

It doesn't take much to see that this envy of the "haves"
naturally leads the "have-nots" (the farmers) to try to
improve their own earnings through whatever means possible,
including tainted fertilizers, counterfeit pesticides,
risky animal drugs, and other dubious business practices.
The attitude of Chinese authorities appears to be that they
are willing to accept some collateral damage in the pursuit
of growth. As a result, as of 2005, China became the world's
largest exporter of food, with exports in excess of US$53.3bn
in that year (certainly a lot higher now). Until this year, 27%
of that food was coming to Japan, 12% to the USA, and
another 18% to South Korea, Hong Kong and Germany. Thus,
the cultural problems that occur in China have become
inextricably linked to to those countries who import its

Certainly the tainted milk scandal is going to have some
severe repercussions on the Chinese-sourced food market in
Japan. When insecticide-tainted gyoza started showing up in
Japan in January of this year, it highlighted the fact that
Japan is in fact addicted to the huge volume of low-cost
food coming in from China. The Japan-inbound food trade at
the time was around approximately JPY1.6trn (US$14.9bn),
and was (and still is) by far the largest food source for
Japan. With an average salary of just 5%-10% of a Japanese
farmer, the economics are irresistible.

Even so, the Japanese are particularly sensitive about the
quality of their imported food, especially since around
60% of all food is now imported, and after the gyoza
scandal the year-on-year volume of produce imports from
China fell by 32% in March this year, and by 26% in June.
Yes, Mrs Watanabe likes low-cost dumplings, potatoes, and
onions, but not if her family are going to get sickened by

This latest food scandal has already touched Japan's
shores. Much like Singapore and Hong Kong, which have
found melamine contamination in liquid milk imported from
China and which have subsequently both issued urgent
recalls of milk products, Japan's supply chain also
includes milk that is sourced from China. Osaka food maker
Marudai has recalled at least three products on the
possibility that they are contaminated, and the Ministry of
Health is checking with hundreds of other companies to make
sure that they follow suit. The government does not want a
repeat of the recent tainted rice scandal (insecticide
tainted industrial-purpose rice from China that got
diverted into the human food chain) which in this last week
claimed the job of the Farm Minister.

To improve its food security, Japan is already in the
throes of slowly changing its farming and food source
systems. Firstly, moves are afoot to allow corporations to
run farms and for farmers to be able to sell their land
without having to go through their local agricultural
cooperatives. This will mean that over the next 10 years or
so, thousands of acres of fallow rice paddies, which
farmers have to leave unplanted to receive rice subsidies,
will now come under the ownership of companies which can
invest to move such land from rice to other crops, who will
be much more economically competitive, and who may
repopulate the countryside with younger laborers, even if
they are imported from China and elsewhere.

Secondly, Japanese food corporations are stepping up their
diversification and security of food sources, in particular
taking ownership of the entire supply chain, from owning
the farms in other countries, through to the processing and
distribution of the food stuffs. We see this in China where
Japanese supermarkets have started their own company farms
and in Australia, where the likes of Nippon Meat Packers
and Itoham breed beef, monitor or own abattoirs, pack the
meat, and ship the finished product to their own
distribution centers in Japan.

This start-to-finish control of the production process is
of course nothing new to the Japanese. They have been
practicing the same approach for car and electronics
manufacturing, where the trading companies own the mines
and transport, and send the raw materials in to their
group-owned factories in Japan, so as to churn out superior
quality products.

A new Asahi Breweries dairy farm in China is a good example
of the total supply chain approach. In May last year, the
company announced that it would start the operation of a
100-hectare dairy farm outside the Shandong Province city
of Laiyang. The farm was developed at a cost of JPY1.5bn,
and included side investments by Sumitomo Chemical and
Itochu Corp. The farm is now fully operational, and Asahi
last week started marketing its milk output to Chinese
consumers with the angle that it is a safer alternative.

Asahi's safety point is that they control every aspect of
the farm and its produce, and thus they are not prone to
the rorts practiced by farmers who form the lowest (and
uncontrollable) level of the supply chain of other leading
dairy producers. And we do mean "control". Apparently the
pasteurization and other machinery Asahi uses are all
imported from Japan, milk production and animal health are
conducted by in-house specialists, and only milk from the
farm is sold by their marketing arm.

Although the Asahi milk is 50% more expensive than its
competitors, already Japanese supermarket chains such as
Ito-Yokado and Aeon have said that they will start selling
the product in their stores. Our guess is that with all the
media coverage going on, Asahi's approach will gain wide
acceptance by consumers and competitors alike.

...The information janitors/


+++ NEWS

- New U.S. VC unit for Asahi Kasei
- H&M does well with first store
- Drink-drive Passenger fined
- Barclays interested in acquiring Lehman Brothers Japan
- Lots of people older than 100

-> New U.S. VC unit for Asahi Kasei

While some Japanese listed companies find M&A targets for
their spare cash, others are doing venture capital funds.
Such is the case with materials company Asahi Kasei, which
has just established a JPY1bn (US$9.3m) venture fund to
invest in U.S. start-ups in the electronics materials and
medical equipment spaces. Asahi Kasei says that it is
hoping to put its money in up to 30 different companies.
***Ed: Although JPY1bn is a relatively small fund, what is
significant here is the opportunity for U.S. start-ups to
get involved with a major Japanese company as a close
partner. This will probably mean that investees get Asahi
Kasei business introductions back in Japan, and possibly
even a sales base. Both these benefits would significantly
magnify the reasons for taking such a small investment.**
(Source: TT commentary from, Sep 20, 2008)

-> H&M does well with first store

German competitor to Gap and Uniqlo, Hennes & Mauritz AB
(H&M), opened the doors of its first branch in Japan last
week and has been a huge hit ever since. The Ginza-located
store recorded 50,000 visitors over 5 days, and managed to
sell out of a number of items. By Friday, the line outside
to get into the store was still 2 hours long. Top of the
popularity charts were mini-skirts and knit sweaters. (Source:
TT commentary from, Sep 19, 2008)

-> Drink-drive Passenger fined

Under Japan's new drink-driving laws which permit the
police to fine passengers, not just the driver, the first
passenger to be so charged was sentenced to a JPY250,000 in
Sendai District Court. The passenger was fined on the basis
that he asked his drunk friend to drive him home while
knowing that the driver was drunk. As a result, the driver
slammed into a walking group of high schoolers, and killed
three of them. The driver has already been sentenced to 20
years in prison. (Source: TT commentary from,
Sep 19, 2008)

-> Barclays interested in acquiring Lehman Brothers Japan

The international financial media are speculating that
Barclays, Mitsubishi UFJ (MUFJ), and Sumitomo Mitsui (SMBC)
are all interested in bidding for the assets of Lehman
Brothers Japan. Barclays is a natural party to a possible
transaction thanks to the fact that it bought out Lehman's
US broker business earlier this week. ***Ed: As of June
this year, SMBC became a major shareholder in Barclays and
therefore is unlikely to bid directly against the British bank.**
(Source: TT commentary from, Sep
20, 2008),25197,24373192-20501,00.html

-> Lots of people older than 100

The number of people older than 100 in Japan rose to a
record 36,276 this year, with women comprising 86% of the
total. The number of centenarians has more than doubled in
the last 6 years, providing early proof of calculation
that there will be around 1m centenarians by 2050, and that
such estimates are not necessarily far-fetched. The
oldest person is a 113-year old woman living in Okinawa.
Okinawa still has the highest number of centenarians, with
838 people, or, about 0.061% of the population. This is
about double the ratio of old people for the nation on
average. (Source: TT commentary from, Sep
12, 2008)

NOTE: Broken links
Many online news sources remove their articles after just a
few days of posting them, thus breaking our links -- we
apologize for the inconvenience.

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