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2008年9月18日 (木)


(Sep. 18, 2008) The Yomiuri Shimbun
Blame for rice scandal also lies with ministry
汚染米拡大 農水省は責任を痛感せよ(9月18日付・読売社説)

Rice meant for industrial use because it was unfit for human consumption has been illicitly distributed and ended up in consumers' mouths. Serious ramifications from this scandal, which has jeopardized food safety, are spreading nationwide.

It was revealed Tuesday that a large portion of the about 1,400 tons of rice contaminated with pesticide residue or mold that the government sold to Osaka-based Mikasa Foods was resold to about 380 companies in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and 21 other prefectures. More than 600 tons of the rice was distributed as food.

The book must be thrown at the people involved in this act that betrayed public trust in food. The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry also must bear heavy responsibility for failing to detect the illicit act and allowing damage from the tainted rice to spread.

The government should be united in urgently unraveling the truth about this scandal and mapping out measures to prevent a recurrence of similar incidents.

Tainted rice distributed by Mikasa Foods was served in meals at day care centers and other locations. Concentrations of the pesticide methamidophos detected in the rice exceeded safe levels.

The rice has been processed to make shochu liquor and sweets, and only a fraction of the tainted rice Mikasa bought from the government was used for industrial purposes. It is believed that Mikasa intended to sell the rice for food from the beginning.


Slack government checks

The ministry inspected Mikasa facilities almost 100 times, but only after notifying the company in advance. This allegedly gave Mikasa time to produce bogus sales slips and temporarily change the processing procedure for inspections to mask its wrongdoing.

Aside from Mikasa, three companies resold tainted rice meant for industrial use they bought from the government. In all these cases, the ministry blindly believed explanations offered by the companies and did not bother to confirm who bought the rice from these companies.

The government imported the tainted rice in keeping with an accord under the World Trade Organization. If the unsold rice is returned to the exporting nations, Japan will not able to fulfill its import obligations. Companies willing to buy such tainted rice were therefore welcome clients for the ministry.

We wonder if the ministry and these companies developed collusive ties, which resulted in lackadaisical inspection practices. If such ties indeed resulted in such a blatant disrespect for food safety, the blame for this scandal should fall squarely on the ministry as well as the companies that distributed the tainted rice.


Consumers disrespected

Since the scandal surfaced earlier this month, the ministry's behavior has been nothing short of disrespectful to consumers. For example, it initially refused to disclose the list of companies that bought the tainted rice.

Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Seiichi Ota made matters worse last week when he said he was not overly fazed by the scandal, a remark that raised doubt about whether he knows what it takes to ensure the food on Japan's tables is safe.

At the urging of the Prime Minister's Office, the ministry eventually produced the list of companies that purchased tainted rice and decided to return the remaining spoiled rice to the exporting countries, or to incinerate it.

These moves came rather belatedly. The ministry should make the distribution channels of rice more transparent and beef up its supervision of imported rice.

The Osaka, Fukuoka and Kumamoto prefectural police plan to start full-fledged investigations into Mikasa Foods to establish a criminal case. We hope the police will trace the entire distribution network of the tainted rice and uncover the underhand tricks Mikasa employed. Doing so will help find ways to prevent a recurrence of similar incidents.

The rice in question reportedly is unlikely to pose health risks. Although this scandal constitutes a grave betrayal of public trust in food, it should not trigger disproportionate reactions. We hope consumers will respond to this scandal calmly.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 18, 2008)
(2008年9月18日01時55分  読売新聞)


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