Chinese matsutake imports fall after illegal residue find

OSAKA — Imports of matsutake mushrooms from China are declining sharply after it was found they contain illegal quantities of pesticide residue, leading to an increase in imports from North Korea and other suppliers, according to wholesale market officials.

When the first of this year’s crop hit the market in late August, pesticide residue 28 times that permitted under the food sanitation law was found on Chinese matsutake mushrooms.

Japanese consumed some 2,500 tons of the mushrooms in 2001, of which imports accounted for 2,400 tons, including 1,530 tons from China.

The volume of Chinese mushrooms handled by the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market has since plunged to one-third of the level a year ago.

Prices of Chinese mushrooms are plunging as well. At the central wholesale market in Osaka, Chinese mushrooms were quoted at up to around 10,000 yen per 400 grams in July but traded at half that level early this month.

The supply shortage of Chinese mushrooms is covered by an increase in imports from other suppliers, especially North Korea, which is projected to ship 1,300 tons this year, up sharply from 211 tons in the drought-hit 2001.

While homegrown matsutake mushrooms have yet to reach the market in earnest, shipments are expected to fall below last year’s 78 tons, according to officials at the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry.