Snow Brand to dispute link to death

OSAKA — Three Snow Brand Milk Products Co. officials indicted on charges of negligence over a massive food poisoning case last summer plan to dispute a possible link between the poisoning and a victim’s death, sources familiar with the case said Tuesday.

The officials will dispute the link when they go to trial at the Osaka District Court on Dec. 18, the sources said.

Osamu Kubota, 52, the head of a factory in Hokkaido that produced and delivered contaminated powdered skim milk, and two other officials are accused of causing the poisoning due to their negligence. Some 200 people were affected by the poisoning outbreak, which left one dead.

According to the indictment, staphylococcus aureus bacteria multiplied in powdered skim milk on some production lines at the factory in Taiki, Hokkaido, after a power outage in late March 2000.

The defendants failed to take appropriate steps, allowing the factory to produce toxin-tainted powdered skim milk that was later delivered to the company’s Osaka factory, according to the indictment.

The Osaka factory used the tainted skim milk powder to produce the low-fat milk that caused the food poisoning, according to the indictment.

It is believed the three defendants will accept responsibility for causing the poisoning as indicted. But they will dispute any attempt to connect the death of one victim with the poisoning, the sources said.

Kubota and another official were also indicted on a charge of violating the Food Sanitation Law by falsifying a report to health authorities about the cleaning of a tank.

Prosecutors dropped plans to indict former Snow Brand President Tetsuro Ishikawa and former Senior Managing Director Hiroshi Soma on charges of negligence in failing to contain the poisoning, saying they were unable to establish a strong enough case.

In October, some victims asked prosecutors to reconsider the matter.