The 2020 Tokyo Olympics Committee Is Turning a Blind Eye to Animal Welfare Violations in Japan


Since the announcement that the 2020 Olympics will be held in Tokyo, the entire nation of Japan has been abuzz with pride. While the Olympic Games offer an opportunity for all countries to showcase their best to a global audience, no country has more eyes on it than the host country.

Tokyo will be on the world’s stage in the summer of 2020, and our city is preparing to welcome visitors from abroad by focusing on details such as adding multiple languages to street signs and replacing outdated buildings with more modern versions.

Tokyo has a lot to offer, such as robot-run hotels, 8K TV and virtual and augmented reality. Unfortunately, there's one area that doesn’t inspire pride: animal welfare. The Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympics and the Paralympic Games is failing to adhere to the animal welfare standards put forth by the 2012 and 2016 Olympics regarding menu items that can be served to both athletes and visitors.

At the 2012 London Olympics, there was a stated animal welfare standard: in the Olympic Village, only free-range eggs, pork from sows who were not kept in stalls, and milk from cows grazed on grass were served. The 2016 Rio Olympics placed similar welfare requirements on suppliers.

In contrast, at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the committee has decided to support outdated factory farming practices by serving especially cruel dishes that include meat, eggs, and milk sourced from animals who have suffered in filthy, confined conditions. The current menu at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics includes eggs from battery-caged hens that have never had space to open their wings, pork from sows forced to live in gestation crates, unable to even turn around, milk from cows chained for up to 24 hours 365 days, pork and chicken from crowded unhygienic conditions, and even beef from blind cows.

These extreme cruelties have been approved by the Japan Good Agricultural Practice certification (JGAP), which was hastily created this year by the JGAP Foundation for use in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. While there are minimal details focusing on animal welfare in the certification requirements, the standards of treatment and husbandry of the animals remain incredibly low.

This sharp decline in farmed animal welfare standards at the Olympics is a stark contrast to the improved welfare criterion countries and corporations are adopting around the world. The Olympics represent innovation, improving technology, and honoring the growth of values and diversity. Why should those areas of progress not apply to all aspects of the event?

Japan has historically ignored issues of animal welfare. The notion of farmed animal welfare is not widely disseminated and understood nationwide. Our country continuously ranks in the top three economies in the world, yet the country still produces eggs using over 97% battery cages—the average size of which is as small as an iPad. While cruel battery cages are disappearing in North America and Europe, Japan continues to support battery cages. Hens’ welfare, health, and need to express their natural behaviors is completely disregarded.

The country must at least maintain animal welfare standards used by previous Olympic-hosting countries. Some of the farming conditions supported by Tokyo’s Olympic Committee have actually been legally banned in the EU, are in the process of being eliminated in the supply chains of the world’s largest corporations, and are consistently protested all over the world. The demand for higher animal welfare standards is global. It’s not just a Western trend.

Japan imports a wide range of animal products, but does not export many or often. This has resulted in a lack of public awareness about animal welfare in Japan and leaves consumers in the dark about what they’re actually buying. While consumers in Japan have not been thoroughly educated on how their food is produced and the plight of farmed animals, these issues are becoming more and more prominent in Asia.

China’s central government has enacted the Livestock Husbandry Law and the Regulations on Live Pig Slaughter Management, which sets forth standards that are either equal to or exceed the animal welfare codes in OIE. In Taiwan, training is required for handling farmed animals and penalties are imposed on those who violate the Humane Animal Slaughtering Regulation.

The 2020 Tokyo Olympic Committee needs to enforce its own basic welfare standards around an issue that Japan has ignored for decades. If the committee fails to address these issues, they will create an Olympics notable not only for the efforts of its world-class athletes but for the sad fact that even more animals will suffer than in previous games. This isn’t a record we believe Japan wants to hold.

There are three years until the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games but not much time to address the poor decisions made by the Olympic Committee of Food and Beverage Services.

We at the Humane League are partnering with Japan’s Animal Rights Center to urge the committee to reconsider its lack of oversight—and we need your help.

Please sign and share our petition to help improve farmed animal welfare for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and consider adopting a healthy plant-based diet free from animal products.

(Editor's Note: This piece has been updated from its original version to remedy an incorrect sourcing.)

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