Six in seafood sales held in China eel mislabeling scam

YOKOHAMA (Kyodo) Six people, including an employee of Ito-Yokado Co., were arrested Wednesday for allegedly mislabeling frozen broiled eel imported from China by the major supermarket chain and reselling the seafood.

Yuki Oshima, the 34-year-old female employee at Ito-Yokado, and the others are suspected of conspiring to falsely name the importer as Takayama Seafood Co., a fisheries wholesaler in Tokyo, and reselling the eel products to Yokoyama-based seafood distributor Yamato Foods Co. and others last year, the police said.

Ito-Yokado imported the eel in 2004 and 2005 and sold some to Takayama Seafood sometime around 2006. The suspects then allegedly repacked the products into boxes with a label indicating “Takayama” as the importer.

The amount of eel resold came to about 15 tons, worth ¥6.34 million, the police said.

Among the suspects is Sotaro Ishihara, 58, a former Ito-Yokado employee, Tomohiro Takayama, the president of Takayama Seafood, and Nobuyuki Koike, 47, a former Takayama Seafood employee.

While Ishihara has denied changing the boxes, Koike has admitted to the repackaging, the police said.

A spokesman at Seven & I Holdings Co., which runs Ito-Yokado, admitted that its subsidiary sold some of the eel in its stock to Takayama Seafood but said, “Ito-Yokado has done nothing illegal in this case.”

Last November, the Kanagawa Prefectural Police raided Yamato Foods’ sales branch and related locations on suspicion it extended the freshness dates of its eel products by 2 1/2 years before selling them to consumers.

A banned synthetic pigment called malachite green, which can be used as an antimicrobial agent for ornamental fish but is banned for use in food, was also detected in Yamato Foods products, which spurred Yokohama authorities to order the retailer to recall the products and contact the police.

Seven & I said the eel sold to Takayama contained no malachite green.

“Eels found to be containing malachite green were either dumped or returned to China,” another Seven & I spokesman said. “At the time, eel consumption here suffered a drop because of the chemical, increasing our eel stocks.

“But items sold to others had no problems,” he added.

Calling the case a “chain of falsifications to deceive consumers,” an investigative source said Kanagawa police will begin a full-scale probe into the case.