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.” 

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