Japan Steps Up Food Import Checks After Dumpling Scare

Health ministry to reinforce inspections of imported processed food and consider testing for agrochemical residues in random samples, following recent food poisoning incidents.

TOKYO (Kyodo) β€” Japan's health ministry decided Thursday to reinforce inspections of imported processed food, such as by considering testing for agrochemical residues in random samples of such imports, following the recent food poisoning incidents linked to Chinese-made frozen ''gyoza'' dumplings contaminated with pesticide.
 
With investigations of the incidents under way, Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura warned against making comments on the possible cause, in response to remarks made by a Chinese quality control official the previous day that the dumplings could have been poisoned deliberately.
 
''We have not yet come to a conclusion,'' Machimura told reporters, noting that the Chinese side ''has also not yet come to a concrete conclusion, so I think it is better not to say something that may seem like specifying a cause at this stage when we are in the middle of investigations.''
 
The senior Chinese official said Wednesday that the dumplings could have been deliberately poisoned by people wishing to harm relations between the two countries and that the possibility that a harmful pesticide was mixed in during the dumplings' manufacturing process was ''extremely small.''
 
''There may be such ways of looking at it, but at any rate we do not yet know what the cause is and I think it inappropriate to say something too decisive at this point in time,'' Machimura, the top Japanese government spokesman, said.
 
Wei Chuangzhong, vice minister of China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, had told a visiting Japanese government fact-finding team, ''A small group of elements which does not wish for the development of Sino-Japanese friendship may have taken extreme measures.''
 
As for measures to reinforce inspections, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry is considering testing for agrochemical residues in random samples of processed food imports, increasing quarantine equipment and officers, and requiring importers to strengthen their voluntary checks, ministry officials said.
 
Agrochemical residues in imported food are being randomly checked at quarantine stations in various parts of Japan in vegetables, fruits and other perishables, plus simple processed food. But processed food with several ingredients, such as gyoza made of dough and a meat-vegetable mixture, have been excluded from checks as testing them takes time, they said.
 
In the wake of the poisoning incidents, however, health minister Yoichi Masuzoe has issued instructions to review the inspection of processed food and the ministry is expediting work to come up with concrete measures, the officials said.
 
As it would be difficult to check the vast amount of processed food imports at quarantine stations, the ministry also plans to ask importers through their industry group to strengthen checks for agrochemical residues at the manufacturing stage in the countries of origin, they said.
 
After eating gyoza dumplings made and frozen by Tianyang Food in China's Hebei Province, 10 members of three families in Chiba and Hyogo prefectures developed food poisoning from an organophosphate pesticide called methamidophos from late December to January.
 
Another type of pesticide called dichlorvos, meanwhile, has been detected in dumplings, also made by Tianyang Food for sale in Japan, a Japanese distributor of the dumplings said earlier this week. There have been no reports of health problems resulting from the chemical found in these dumplings, according to the distributor.
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