The Rice Police Cometh:
Looking over his shoulder to make sure that no-one from the Ministry of Agriculture's "Rice Police" is watching, one of the crowd goes up to the box on display at the Australian exhibition stand.
He takes a pinch of gold dust, reaches over to sprinkle on the rice and finds... nothing.
The illegal bowl of rice is an illusion, a hologram created by the Australian Rice Growers Co-operative* to give potential Japanese inporters and consumers a taste of the style, if not the substance, of the Australian product
The reason for the clever subterfuge lies in the extraordinary lengths to which the Japanese authorities will go to enforce the strict food control laws banning the import of this nation's staple.
After an embarrassing confrontation with both Australian and American rice growers at last year's Foodex - when the Australian exhibitors were obliged to remove a perspex map of Australia filled with rice - the authorities from Japan's Food Agency have further tightened the rules.
Now the regulations are emphatic: if a product cannot be commercially imported, not a single grain can be shown to the Japanese public without the offending article being confiscated by the agency and the offenders charged with violations of the food law.
A director of the Rice Growers Co-operative, Mr Barry Buffier, said last night in Tokyo that the display was intended to emphasise that the Australian industry was keen to export rice when the market was eventually liberalised, without provoking a confrontation with the authorities. He said:
"We wanted to show that we are very interested in the market but we are prepared to play by the rules"
Another focal point in the display is a giant photograph of two Japanese rice farmers, Mr and Mrs Takasuka.
Nothing unusual in that - except that this is a photo of Australia's first rice growers, taken in 1905 at Swan Hill in Victoria.
Mr Takasuka emigrated at the turn of the century and spent 20 years in the Riverina experimenting with rice cultivation under harsh Australian conditions. He is acknowledged as the pioneer of an industry which is still based largely on the Japonica rice varieties preferred by Japanese consumers.
The exhibition has not yet had an 'official visit from the 'rice police', but it is understood that several officials visited privately and were observed leaving with bemused smiles after checking out the 'contraband' bowl of rice.
The atmosphere may be less convivial at an American trade fair next month, where US rice growers plan to defy the ban and exhibit their product for real. - Steve Burrell, Tokyo - Austraian Financial Review
*The exhibit was designed and contructed for the Australian Rice Growers Co-operative by the Sydney based group 'Studio of Arts And Scinces (SAAS).
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