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After poisoning sentence, confidence in China's food exports must be ensured

Publication Date : 23-01-2014

 

How can the safety of the inexpensive Chinese food products that are eaten in Japan be ensured? This remains an important task facing both nations.

A Chinese defendant in the case involving the poisoning of frozen gyoza dumplings, which came to light in 2008, has been sentenced to life imprisonment. The defendant, then a temporary worker at a manufacturer of frozen gyoza, snuck into a freezing room at a factory in Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province, and injected organic phosphate insecticide into packages of gyoza, according to the ruling handed down by a court in the city Monday. The man wanted to cause a stir through the act, the sentence said, and through it push for better working conditions.

Ten people in three families in Chiba and Hyogo prefectures developed symptoms of poisoning after eating imported gyoza that had been poisoned. One became temporarily unconscious. Several victims in China suffered similar symptoms as well.

The Shijiazhuang court had every reason to conclude the defendant’s behaviour constituted a serious premeditated crime that damaged the health of a number of people.

In the initial stages of the incident, the Chinese government attempted to blame the whole matter on the Japanese side, insisting it was “extremely unlikely pesticide was put [into the gyoza] in our country.”

Japan refuted this, basing its conclusions on evidence that included the results of scientific tests on the pesticide injected into the gyoza. The matter developed into a diplomatic row between the two nations.

However, an extensive investigation by China found the poisoning had in fact resulted from the deliberate injection of a toxic substance into the gyoza at the Chinese factory.

Tainted image

The case greatly tarnished China’s image in Japan, contributing to a worsening of the bilateral relationship. Though the case can be described as an extraordinary crime committed by a single employee, the incident catalysed distrust among Japanese over the safety of Chinese food products in general.

The poisoned gyoza incident was followed by a number of similar cases in China. Incidents that have come to light include the distribution of powdered milk mixed with a toxic chemical and cadmium-contaminated rice. All of this has contributed to rising concerns over the safety of Chinese food products.

The poisoned gyoza case spurred Japanese companies to tighten quality controls on Chinese food products. Measures taken by the many manufacturers that operate in China and trading houses that market Chinese food for Japanese consumption include more stringent tests on the amounts of agricultural chemicals used at Chinese farms and on the quality of processing materials used at Chinese factories.

Some Japanese companies have adopted measures to prevent toxic and other dangerous substances from contaminating their products by, for example, setting up security cameras at their factories in China and requiring workers to wear pocketless uniforms.

In fiscal 2012, the percentage of safety violations involving food imports from China fell below the overall average for all imported foods, according to Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry statistics released last year.

This has accompanied a recent rise in the volume of food imports from China. Though imports declined sharply after the poisoned gyoza case, the figure has almost returned to levels recorded prior to the incident.

It is difficult to imagine eliminating Chinese food products from our household menus, as they can be produced at lower costs. Further efforts must be made to thoroughly ensure the safety of Chinese food, by manufacturers and all other entities involved in both nations.

 

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