Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Japanese print media question safety of food imports from China

The Japanese tabloid media have found something new to complain about China. Some features in news magazines lately have been warning people about the safety of food and ingredients imported from China. But officials from the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare said there are no major problems that are specific to Chinese food of late.

Yukan Fuji news magazine’s cover story last week features steps on how to cleanse any “highly toxic” product imported from China, which includes peeling the outer layers of onions and dipping the vegetables in boiling oil. Nikkan Gendai meanwhile had a headline saying “Extremely toxic rice from China has landed in Japan.” Even one of the more respectable news magazines Aera cited in an article published last May 23 the numerous food safety violations coming from China. Apparently for the past year, there have been 222 incidents with fresh or frozen vegetables, 112 cases with peanuts, 77 with other vegetables, 166 concerning frozen prepared food, 61 with shellfish and 97 concerning cooked meat products. Other publications have also taken issue with ingredients coming from China which are then used in Japanese-brand processed foodstuffs.

Hiroyuki Nagayama, a spokesman for the Imported Food Security Division from the ministry said that the most prevalent issue with Chinese food is pesticide residue, but that “has not been such a major problem” of late. He also emphasized that the food violations are not just specific to products imported from China; other countries like US and Thailand also have minor violations. The last major scare from a product from China came in 2008 when dozens of people were taken ill after eating dumplings from China that had insecticide. Tinyan Food Processing immediately stopped production and exporting the dumplings and the Japanese government asked Beijing to investigate the matter and make sure it never happens again.

Roy Larke, a professor of international marketing and Japanese business at Tokyo’s Rikkyo University said that instead of just worrying about product coming from China, the government should take responsibility on ensuring that the food people consume is safe. He said that they should have final say on “the quality control of the Japanese supermarkets and intermediary import suppliers.” 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Shareholder rebellion claims five scalps at Glencore

Glencore Xstrata was the subject of a boardroom clear-out as shareholders at the newly formed mining giant moved to punish directors for a controversial multimillion-pound "golden handcuffs" package proposed ahead of the mega-merger.

Its chairman, the City veteran Sir John Bond, was among the former Xstrata directors booted out at the company's first annual meeting since the $67bn (£44bn) tie-up, with 81 per cent voting against his re-election. He has been replaced on an interim basis by Tony Hayward, the former chief executive of BP who quit in 2010 in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico disaster.

Three other former Xstrata directors, Con Fauconnier, Ian Strachan and Peter Hooley, were also ousted, while a fifth, Sir Steve Robson, announced before the meeting that he was resigning from the board.

The revolt came amid continuing anger over a £144m package of retention payments for 70 Xstrata executives which was initially proposed as part of the mega-merger. Sir John had originally insisted these were vital to the success of the tie-up, but was later forced to remove them as a condition of the deal going ahead.

After a vote last November that saw Xstrata investors support the merger but about 87 per cent fail to back the payments, Sir John announced his resignation, although he said he would not leave until a replacement was found.

In a statement after he was ousted, he said he recognised and respected "the strong opposition among many to the retention arrangements which the board felt appropriate to ensure management stability".

The search for a new chairman will be led by Mr Hayward, the senior independent non-executive at the miner, as the head of the nominations board.

His elevation to interim chairman is a dramatic return to the top of a FTSE 100 giant for the ex-BP man, who attracted severe criticism in 2010 for telling reporters in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, which caused 11 deaths, that he wanted "my life back." He eventually resigned as BP chief executive, saying he was "demonised and vilified".

Mr Hayward is currently chief executive of Genel Energy, the oil explorer backed by the financier Nat Rothschild. Glencore Xstrata said Mr Hayward would be step down once a permanent chairman was found.

The board clear-out leaves the struggle for power over Glencore Xstrata even more firmly in the hands of Glencore directors and executives, amid concerns over whether a new chairman will be able to provide a balance to the company's chief executive Ivan Glasenberg.

When the merger was originally proposed, the former chief executive of Xstrata Mick Davis was set to head up Glencore Xstrata for six months. However, the terms were later renegotiated and Glencore's boss Mr Glasenberg – who is also its largest shareholder – instead took charge. Meanwhile, nearly 25 per cent of the group is owned by Glencore managers.

"What matters now is to secure the appointment of an independent chairman who commands the support of both external and internal shareholders," said major shareholder Scottish Widows Investment Partnership's Anne Fraser. "The chairman would then be well-placed to lead a refreshment of the board."