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2008年11月28日 (金)


2008/11/28 --The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 27(IHT/Asahi: November 28,2008)

EDITORIAL: Farm ministry's woes


We have to wonder about the priorities of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and ask this basic question: Who do its officials think they work for? We raise this point after reading a report on the farm ministry by a government panel of intellectuals.


The panel was looking into the scandal over the sale of pesticide-tainted rice that ended up in food products and trying to determine responsibility for the problem. The report states: "The farm ministry itself has tried to evade responsibility for food safety." It also noted that the ministry's entrenched "bureaucratic nature" ensures that officials go about their daily work with no thought as to the consequences of their actions.




The panel did not mince words in its criticism of the ministry's blatant disregard for public health. We urge the ministry to take the panel's criticism to heart.


There is no question that those who deserve immediate condemnation are the businesses that committed wrongdoing in the first place. But there is also no doubt that the slipshod way in which ministry officials handled matters made the problem worse.


Let's also not forget that it was the ministry that sold tainted rice it judged unfit for human consumption to businesses for industrial use. The ministry did not bother to take any special steps, such as coloring the rice, to prevent illegal resale of the grain. Its inspections of the buyers of the rice were also conducted in a perfunctory manner.


The ministry's first priority was to offload the tainted rice quickly. No thought was given to consumers. Instead of being used for industrial glue and other products, the tainted rice was processed into sekihan red rice, shochu distilled spirit and other items. Consumers had no idea they were being exposed to unsafe products.


The report pointed out that sectionalism within the ministry and poor communication with local branches contributed to the problem. It strongly urged successive farm ministers and vice ministers to reflect on the way the ministry was being administered.


Farm minister Shigeru Ishiba said he will take disciplinary action against the officials who put priority on rice sales instead of food safety. In this regard, Ishiba said that he, too, would exercise self-punishment.

This is only natural, given the seriousness of the problem and the anxiety it caused to consumers and the food industry.


But the ministry must not close the book on this scandal by simply disciplining the officials involved. This is only the starting point for it to make a fresh start as an organization committed to protecting public safety.


It needs to drastically change the mind-set of ministry officials. Instead of simply following precedents, we want individual officials to reflect on what they need to do.


When it came under intense criticism about the lackadaisical way it dealt with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease, the ministry implemented organizational reform. This included setting up the Food Safety and Consumer Affairs Bureau. But as this new scandal shows, the organization did not live up to its name nor show that it had learned lessons from the past.


This problem does not concern the farm ministry alone. A slew of problems go unattended because they fall into gaps created by the jurisdictions of government offices as well as due to bureaucratic sectionalism and a culture of trying to avoid complications. When it comes to food safety, we frequently see cases in which both the farm ministry and the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare take a back seat.


Traditionally, the nation's administration has focused on industrial development as its priority. The harmful effects of this policy are surfacing one after another. Despite this background, there are no prospects of the Diet deliberating a bill to establish a consumer affairs agency anytime soon.


The administration of consumer affairs must be reformed. Both the bureaucracy and politics are being put to the test.



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