Dumplings Stir China Food Scare in Japan

  • it increases already deep suspicions among consumers in Japan and elsewhere about the safety of Chinese foods.

TOKYO — Japanese supermarkets, restaurants and schools cleared Chinese food products from their shelves and kitchens Friday in a spiraling nationwide scare over insecticide-tainted dumplings.

The government said at least 10 people have fallen ill since December after eating imported dumplings produced by Tianyang Food Processing. Media reports said the number of victims could be as high as 500.

Officials said the insecticide, which is not approved for use in Japan, was found in very high concentrations. One lab test on a leftover dumpling from a sickened family found concentrations at up to 400 times the limit for residues of the insecticide allowed on imported vegetables in Japan, said Co-Op Net, a cooperative that sold the product.

Health Ministry official Rie Hatanaka said the high concentrations were not residue from farm use, though she would not speculate on their source.

Heightening the scare, investigators said they found a tiny hole in a dumpling bag recovered from a sickened family, suggesting the food may have been deliberately contaminated, said Kenichi Mizuno, a police official in Hyogo prefecture where three people were hospitalized.

The contamination, which topped Japanese news reports, prompted many stores and restaurant chains to stop using imported Chinese food altogether.

"I'm afraid the dumplings could cause a negative impact on our diplomatic ties," said Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura. "We should promptly take measures to determine the cause and prevent a recurrence before relations are damaged."

Telephone calls to Tianyang and its parent company, Hebei Foodstuffs Import & Export Group, were not answered. Chinese officials have said they stopped the company's production and exports but said tests on pork, cabbage and ginger used in the dumpling batches blamed for the illnesses had shown no sign of the insecticide.

The dumpling scare increased already deep suspicions among consumers in Japan and elsewhere about the safety of Chinese foods. China's exports have come under intense scrutiny in the past year after potentially deadly chemicals were found in goods including toothpaste, toys and seafood.

According to foreign trade statistics released by the Finance Ministry, Japan-China trade value--imports and exports combined--reached more than 27 trillion yen in 2007, exceeding the value of Japan-U.S. trade--about 25 trillion yen--for the first time on a calendar year basis. Food products account for just 6 percent of China's total amount of exports to Japan, and many experts say the incident will have a limited impact on overall Japan-China trade.

While the Japan External Trade Organization maintains that no country can take China's place as a production and supply base, it is risky to develop an overdependence on the country. It is likely that some firms will start to import products from other Asian countries.

However, in the United States, where tainted Chinese-made products, including pet food and toys, became a major problem, many companies sought to promote their products by telling consumers that they did not include materials produced in China.

(The Associated Press, Daily Yomiuri)

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