• Kyodo

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Nestle Japan Ltd. has been recycling unsold instant coffee to make new products for more than three decades, sources said Sunday.

The All-Japan Coffee Fair Trade Conference, an industry group made up of sellers of coffee products, is questioning the company, group sources said.

Nestle Japan is the country’s largest instant coffee producer and belongs to the Swiss-based food giant Nestle S.A. In the late 1960s, it started what it calls “re-work” on unsold stockpiles and products collected from store shelves, according to the sources.

Instant coffee that had not been sold within three years of production was recycled. The coffee was mixed with hot water and coffee bean extract and then dried to make new coffee powder.

The company then put new expiry dates on the products.

Nestle Japan said that it had stopped using products collected from store shelves in 2000 since it is difficult to ensure food safety. It continues to recycle its own unsold stockpiles.

Last year, the company recycled nearly 46 tons of coffee, or 0.16 percent of the firm’s annual production.

The practice is not illegal, but the firm does not specify on product labels if its items contain recycled ingredients.

If the industry group determines that such a practice could be a serious problem, it is ready to change the rule. It may impose new labeling requirements, a senior official of the group said.

Nestle Japan said the “re-work” process was part of a recycling effort “under the principle of protecting the environment and resources.”

Shunichi Fujii, chief operating officer of Nestle Japan, said that the company has strict safety and quality standards.

“We have absolute confidence in the safety of our ‘re-work’ process. Considering recently growing environmental concerns, it is also hard to say that discarding all the unsold stockpiles is the right thing,” Fujii said.

He also added that the company plans to hold a symposium to study issues of recycling food.

Japanese consumers have become keenly aware of the labeling of food after a series of mislabeling scandals, such as the one involving Snow Brand Foods Co.

Snow Brand Foods passed off Australian and American beef as Japanese meat to obtain subsidies under a government beef buyback program introduced in the wake of the September outbreak of mad cow disease.

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