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The government may create an independent food safety agency tasked with issuing recommendations to the farm and health ministries to counter growing public distrust of the ministries’ handling of mad cow disease, according to a draft government plan.

The new agency would comprise around five experts and would be independent from and outrank government offices, according to a copy of the draft obtained by Kyodo News.

It would have jurisdiction over every food category — excluding medicinal foods — and would be charged with determining whether a given food poses a threat to the human body, the draft says.

The organization would also be tasked with collecting and studying information on risks pertaining to domestic and international food safety.

Agriculture minister Tsutomu Takebe, health minister Chikara Sakaguchi, and other Cabinet ministers were scheduled to meet Friday to discuss the draft plan, which is to be finalized by the government by the end of June.

The authority would likely operate under the auspices of the Cabinet Office, thus remaining independent from other ministries. Panel members would be appointed by the prime minister.

The authority would also have a secretariat comprising several hundred officials, with some on loan from the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, along with the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry.

Some government officials and lawmakers want the Food Agency, an affiliate of the farm ministry, abolished as part of administrative reform efforts.

According to the draft plan, each food safety risk case would be evaluated by a subgroup of scientists, although a final risk assessment would be made by a higher “consultative body” comprising a number of experts.

The government may promote the use of existing research institutes to conduct risk assessments on each case, it said.

Meanwhile, the draft says that the current legal framework is inadequate in ensuring food safety in a comprehensive manner and calls for the formulation of legislation to this end.

It states that the government must legally stipulate that food safety is ensured, with the protection of consumers’ health a priority.

The government would also have to clarify the legal responsibilities of government offices and business operators in cases involving food safety.

These maneuvers represent the government’s attempt to avoid repeating the mistakes made in the wake of the discovery of mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, last fall.

These errors include ignoring international warnings regarding the likelihood of an outbreak, and slow, inefficient handling of the first reported cases.

The draft calls on the government to revise the Japanese Agricultural Standards Law and the Food Sanitation Law in accordance with the proposed legislation, and to revise the JAS law to regulate food imports, health foods and regulations on food advertisement.

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