English Newsletter

Food Safety Citizens' Watch
English Newsletter

Issue #17, Moving Tokyo's fish market:
Deception and hidden safety problems

The Food Safety Citizens' Watch was established in April 2003 as a network of experts to monitor developments and make proposals to the government regarding food safety issues from the citizen's point of view.

August 28, 2008

Moving Tokyo's fish market:
Deception and hidden safety problems

In December 2001, Tokyo Metropolitan Government announced that the wholesale fish market at Tsukiji would be moved to Toyosu.

The Tsukiji market in Chuo Ward, Tokyo was established in 1935. It has grown to become the world's largest fish market handling some 2000 tons of fish as well as fruit and vegetables each day. Over 70 years, the historical market has greeted many visitors, including foreign tourists, and the nearby shops and fish restaurants sell products with the "Tsukiji brand" and a special culture unique to Tokyo.

When the move to Toyosu was first being discussed as the deterioration of the market buildings was becoming obvious, some 58% of the 957 business operators were opposed. Thus, it was decided to continue using the current site. In spite of this, Tokyo mayor Ishihara Shintaro decided to go ahead with the move in 1994. Initially, there was no official indication that the new site was heavily polluted.

The Toyosu site, however, is an old factory site in Koto Ward once operated by Tokyo Gas Co., Ltd. This 40 hectares site was found to be heavily polluted with carcinogenic benzene at levels some 43,000 times higher than permitted, and cyanide compounds found to be some 800 times higher than levels considered safe. Levels of other toxins such as arsenic, lead, mercury and hexavalent chromium were also found to be high at the Toyosu site. Tokyo Gas Co., Ltd. operated the plant at Toyasu from 1956 to 1976 to produce city gas from coal. The soil and ground water pollution is a serious side-effect from the industrial manufacturing process.

A large majority of the trading organisation, the Wholesales Co-operatives of Tokyo Fish Market, voted against the relocation as details about the soil contamination were made public. Fish market officials feel that they cannot guarantee the safety of the food in case the market is moved. They have set up the Association to Study Tsukiji Market, and are asking everyone in Tokyo to participate in the campaign against the relocation.

We can only note here that many questions have been ignored about the proposed new site. The authorities are considering spending an enormous amount of money on decontaminating the soil, but there are no concrete data about safe levels. This is not just a problem for Tsukiji or Toyosu, but for many other polluted factory sites around Japan.

The Association to Study Tsukiji Market has organized workshops to raise awareness of the toxin issue, and we share their deep concerns about the deception and concealment regarding the safety of this important fish market.

By Takako Hasuo, Home Nutrition Research Society