21 Mai 2017
May 21, 2017
By HIROKI KOIZUMI/ Staff Writer
MOTOMIYA, Fukushima Prefecture--New yogurt products made here are shooting up in popularity, and developers hope they will help dispel negative publicity surrounding foodstuffs following the 2011 nuclear disaster.
The lactic acid bacteria used in the products was discovered by University of Tokyo researcher Kazuhisa Sekimizu, who developed the products jointly with a dairy company in Motomiya.
One yen (1 cent) each from the proceeds of a unit sold is being donated to fund the education of local children, who will be the central players in post-disaster rebuilding work.
Tohoku Kyodo Milk Industry Co. donated about 3,000 units of one of its yogurt products in late April to 10 elementary and junior high schools in Motomiya.
“This yogurt product embodies strong passion for helping the education of people like you, who will be working to rebuild Fukushima Prefecture,” Tohoku Kyodo Milk Industry President Hiroshi Imahase told schoolchildren during his visit to Motomiya Elementary School.
The company developed two yogurt products made with a lactic bacterium strain discovered by Sekimizu, formerly a professor of microbiology with the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Pharmaceutical Sciences and now a professor emeritus.
The products were put on sale in July 2014 and April 2015, respectively.
Their sales grew from year to year and reached about 600,000 units in fiscal 2016. The company donated about 600,000 yen to parties including the Fukushima prefectural government and the Motomiya city government for the purchasing of books.
After the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami triggered meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in 2011, Sekimizu thought about how he could help disaster-affected communities, which were suffering from a negative public image due to radiation fears.
Sekimizu gathered some 10,000 bacterium strains from soil on a University of Tokyo campus, a slug, kimchi and other media. The lactic bacterium strain collected from kiwi fruit rind was found to be the most effective in stimulating immunity.
The scientist used that strain to make yogurt on his own, which he took with himself when he visited the offices of Tohoku Kyodo Milk Industry in 2013. He asked Imahase to taste it and approached him with a proposal for joint product development.
Negative publicity from the nuclear disaster had taken a big toll on Tohoku Kyodo Milk Industry. The sales of milk, the company’s mainstay product, had plummeted to less than half the pre-disaster levels, and the company had difficulties in coming up with development funds.
Sekimizu’s enthusiasm, however, won over company officials, who decided to proceed with product development.
“New strains of lactic acid bacteria are being found one after another,” Sekimizu said. “I hope to continue helping to spread word about Fukushima Prefecture’s dairy farming on a global level.”