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Top>People>Protecting Food Safety - Continuing a 30 Year Battle


Mrs. Michiko Kamiyama

Mrs. Michiko Kamiyama [Profile]

Protecting Food Safety - Continuing a 30 Year Battle

Mrs. Michiko Kamiyama
Lawyer (1962 Graduate of the Faculty of Law)

Highly toxic substances are being used as agrochemicals.

“If bureaucrats in the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) were to name their most hated lawyers, I would probably make the top five.”

Lawyer Mrs. Michiko Kamiyama says this with a smile. Mrs. Kamiyama currently works as a representative of the Food Safety Citizen's Watch, constantly questioning the MHLW on food safety for about 30 years. Also, albeit losing the case, in 1992, along with 12 other lawyers and close to 200 housewives, she filed a case against the then Minister of Health, demanding the removal of the establishment of criteria for 10 pesticide residues. It is no wonder she is regarded as a nuisance by Ministry bureaucrats.

Mrs. Kamiyama became a lawyer at 25, passing the National Bar Examination the year after graduating from university, and became aware of food safety in 1979. “It came about when consumer protection regulations were put in place in Tokyo, and I started studying about consumer issues at the Tokyo Bar Association,” she says.

Marrying at 23, giving birth to her first son in 1968 and second son in 1972, Mrs. Kamiyama felt strongly about the importance of food safety. “I learnt that if a woman is pregnant with a baby girl, the baby inside her already has the beginnings of eggs for her own child forming in her belly. In other words, one female body can carry three generations, meaning the safety of the food a pregnant mother eats can affect her grandchildren. This totally surprised me.”

She wasn't a fighting lawyer at that time. Mrs. Kamiyama was transformed by a visit to America in 1990.
“America was using an additive called Imazaril as a post-harvest chemical on lemons,” she says. “It is an agrochemical sprayed on the surface to prevent mold during transportation, but wasn't recognized in Japan at the time. American dealers were covering up this usage.”

After checking with an agrochemical expert, she found out that it was toxic enough to kill athlete's foot bacteria, and possessed high residual content. It was then that Mrs. Kamiyama sent a proposal to the then Ministry of Health and Welfare, recommending a ban on imports.
“But the Ministry wouldn't take a clear stance. Then two years later, they finally recognized Imazaril as a bactericidal food additive. In addition, they introduced lax residual standards for other agrochemicals.”

Mrs. Kamiyama says she was so angry that she couldn't sleep the day she heard this. This is when Mrs. Kamiyama's battle turned into an all-out war. Afterwards, incidents harmful to food safety such as illegal sales of tainted rice, and false labeling of the place of origin steadily came to light.

One false accusation transformed a quiet little girl

Mrs. Kamiyama was apparently a girl afraid to talk in front of others until high school. It was a movie on the Yakai Incident called Mahiru no Ankoku (The Midday Darkness) that sent a shock through this quiet second year high school girl from Isezaki in Gunma Prefecture. The Yakai Incident involved the 1951 murder of an elderly couple in Yamaguchi Prefecture. The police arrested four suspects and forced them to make false confessions, with one receiving a death sentence. But lawyer Hiroshi Masaki fought all the way to the Supreme Court and proved the innocence of the defendants. Saibankan -- Hito no Inochi wa Kenryoku de Ubaerumono ka (Judge -- Is Life Something That Can be Taken Away By Authorities?) (Kobunsha), authored by Masaki, became a bestseller, and the screen version of this book is Mahiru no Ankoku).
“As a young girl,” Mrs. Kamiyama says, “I thought, ‘Lawyers are so cool,’” and she shocked her parents by exclaiming “I want to be a lawyer and do away with false accusations.”
“It was in the time when girls were expected to marry after leaving high school,” she says, “and my parents were quite taken aback, so I asked my uncle, who ran a lawyer's practice in Tokyo, for advice.”

When her uncle, Torao Ogiyama, came to Isezaki, his advice was as follows:.
“Even if you start studying now, you won't get into the University of Tokyo. Try for Chuo University's Faculty of Law.”

Narrowing her sights down to only Chuo, Mrs. Kamiyama passed with flying colors. While working part time at Ogiyama's office, she studied hard for the National Bar Examination.
“I studied as a member of the Academic Research Union,” she explains, “but it also become a place for me to put my thoughts into words.”

Being recognized for her work on food safety and awarded the Avon Woman of the Year Award

Mrs. Michiko Kamiyama at the November 19, 2008 award ceremony of the 2008 Avon Woman of the Year Award. (Front Row, Left)

She was registered as a lawyer at age 25. The motto of the Kanao Arai Office, where she worked for 20 years before becoming independent, was, Winning a lawsuit isn't always necessarily good. What is important is being socially responsible and satisfying everybody.
At regular law offices, office staff will go to government offices to retrieve documents such as certificates of assessment and public tax certificates. At the Arai office, young lawyers would do all office work themselves.
“There is only one other staff member at my office right now,” Mrs. Kamiyama says. “As usual, I do all my own office work.”

Because of this attitude, Mrs. Kamiyama can see things from the same perspective as everyday consumers. In the autumn of 2008, after more than a quarter century of work involving food safety, she was contacted by cosmetics manufacturer Avon. She had been chosen as the recipient of the Avon Woman of the Year Award.
“This award really encouraged me. I was also pleased that as a secondary prize, a group of my choice would receive a monetary grant. Of course I chose the Food Safety Citizen's Watch, because the lack of funding is always the Achilles heel of those citizen groups,” says Mrs. Kamiyama, who will turn 70 this year. For all that, we can't see a decline in her spirit for a fight.

Food Safety Citizen's Watch Homepagenew window

(Offered by: Chuo Daigaku Gakuin Jiho No. 463)

Mrs. Michiko Kamiyama
Born in 1940 in Gunma Prefecture. Graduated from the Faculty of Law, Chuo University in 1962. Registered as a lawyer in 1965 (Tokyo Bar Association). Became involved in food safety and consumer issues from 1975 through Bar Association activities. Currently a representative for the Food Safety Citizen's Watch, board member of NPO People's Association on Countermeasures of Dioxin & Endocrine Disruptors, and a committee member in the Department of Food Safety, Pharmaceutical and Food Safety Bureau Pharmaceutical Division. Published works include Proposals for Food Safety, and Food Safety and Corporate Ethics - Seeking Consumer Rights.