‘Kaiware’ farmers sue state over reported link to E. coli

OSAKA — The Osaka District Court opened hearings May 26 in a 53 million yen compensation suit filed by farmers in Habikino, Osaka Prefecture, over a state announcement that linked “kaiware” daikon sprouts from their farm to the O-157 E. coli epidemic last summer.

In the first oral pleading at the court, the government accepted the case, but asked the court to dismiss the plaintiff’s claim, insisting that Health and Welfare Ministry reports are compiled based on sufficient and necessary investigation. The government’s representatives said they will submit to the court by the end of July, before the next hearing, documents to demonstrate the rationale behind the ministry’s reports and the reasons why the ministry released such reports.

Yoshinori Minamino, 27, vice head of the Minamino Farm in Habikino and son of the plaintiff in the suit, told reporters that he will pay close attention to how the government approaches its documentation of the reports, which severely hurt the sprout growers’ business without offering clear evidence to date. The ministry said in its interim and final reports released in August and September that although the exact source of the massive outbreak of food poisoning could not be determined, the most probable source of the epidemic was the white radish sprouts.

Hajime Minamino, head of the farm, said in the suit filed with the court that the three announcements made by the ministry caused a 30 million yen reduction in the farm’s income from the previous year’s level. Yoshinori Minamino said the farm’s current production and sales of radish sprouts have dropped to only 10 percent of last year’s output before the incident. “If kaiware was the cause of the epidemic, why are we seeing more cases of O-157 this year compared with the same period last year, when our production and sales have dropped this much?” Minamino asked.

Meanwhile, the ministry’s research group released a report last week which said that if the seed or the root of a radish sprout is contaminated by O-157 E. coli, the bacteria could also be transferred to the vegetable’s leaves and stems. The ministry is conducting a joint examination with the United States on radish sprout seeds imported from the U.S.