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Factory worker sentenced for lacing seafood with malathion

Kyodo

The man who laced frozen food with pesticide last fall at a subsidiary in Gunma Prefecture of seafood company Maruha Nichiro Holdings Inc. was sentenced Friday to 3½ years in prison.

Contract worker Toshiki Abe, 49, tampered with 22 products at a factory run by Aqlifoods Co. by spraying them with the pesticide malathion between Oct. 3 and Nov. 5, the Maebashi District Court said.

Abe has no plans to appeal, according to his lawyer, who met with him after the trial ended.

In handing down the decision, presiding Judge Yoshiko Noguchi said Abe’s actions were premeditated and “extremely dangerous,” noting that some people complained of health problems after eating the tainted products.

Prosecutors sought a prison term of 4½ years, arguing that Abe was trying to exact revenge on his employer and factory manager for what he considered unfair treatment and inadequate pay.

Abe’s lawyer did not fight the charges but called for leniency, citing the heavy bonus cut Abe took after the company changed its salary regime. Bonuses represent a major chunk of yearly pay for most Japanese.

Japan’s food poisoning scandals are prompting manufacturers across the country to take steps to rebuild public trust in food safety.

Kagome Co. has introduced security cameras and now requires passwords for employees to enter the facility.

After frozen pesticide-tainted “gyoza” (dumplings) from China surfaced at a Tokyo-based subsidiary of Japan Tobacco Inc. in 2008, the firm issued new uniforms to the food processors on its production lines. The uniforms, which are devoid of pockets, have been used in frozen-food processing factories to prevent workers from bringing in substances or items that could be used to taint food.

Many companies have also started to disclose the source of their products.

Since the end of July, McDonald’s Japan has disclosed information on the source of the meat it uses on its website, which has been accessed by about 280,000 people.

The scandal over pesticide-tainted food packages, however, has drawn attention to the current system, which requires that food packages be labeled only with an identification mark to indicate the last plant or facility it was processed at. As long as packages bear the mark, they don’t have to show the name of the plant where it was manufactured.

The Consumer Affairs Agency, however, has decided to update the system. The agency said the mark would be incomprehensible to consumers if a tainted food product had to be recalled.

The agency said that under the updated system, manufacturers will be required to disclose detailed information on the facilities where products were processed. They said, however, that application of the identification marks will be allowed in case one product is being processed at numerous facilities.

“Now, as the recent food poisoning scandals are undermining public trust and consumers are feeling threatened, we need an effective safety management system,” said Kaori Yamane, who heads the Japan Housewives’ Association.