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OSAKA — Snow Brand Milk Products Co. on Tuesday said it has appointed Nobuko Hiwasa, former chief of a leading consumer group, as an outside director in charge of food safety.

“It is our urgent task to regain the confidence of consumers,” Haruhiko Okada, vice president of Snow Brand Milk, said at a news conference.

Hiwasa, 65, is a former head of the National Liaison Committee of Consumers’ Organizations. Her appointment will be approved at a shareholders’ general meeting June 27, company officials said.

Snow Brand Milk’s sales plunged following a massive food-poisoning incident in the summer of 2000. The involvement of a subsidiary in a meat-labeling scam dealt it another heavy blow this year.

The appointment of a director in charge of food safety at Snow Brand Milk was proposed by Shareholder Ombudsman, an Osaka-based group of shareholders of various firms that monitors the behavior of companies.

Kansai University professor Koji Morioka, the head of Shareholder Ombudsman, told reporters the appointment of Hiwasa marks the first time in Japan that a citizens’ group and a company have cooperated in selecting an outside director.

It is also unprecedented for a member of a consumer group to become an outside director at a leading company, he said.

When Snow Brand Milk was hit by the food-poisoning scandal, Hiwasa played an active role in calling attention to the firm’s responsibility.

“Although I hesitated, I have decided to accept the appointment due to the wish to reform the company based on a fresh viewpoint of mine,” Hiwasa told the same news conference.

Said Morioka: “There is meaning behind the fact that Snow Brand Milk Products has selected a person who cannot easily be used by the company.”

In January, Snow Brand Milk took an additional hammering in a label-falsification scandal involving Snow Brand Foods Co., which disbanded in April.

The case led to the arrest of seven employees in mid-May for their alleged involvement in the fraud.

Snow Brand Foods admitted passing off imported beef as domestic to benefit from a government-subsidized buyback scheme introduced after mad cow disease was discovered in Japan in September.

The buyback scheme was introduced in October to incinerate about 12,600 tons of beef from cows butchered before nationwide cattle testing for the disease began Oct. 18.

The labeling scandal prompted many retailers to remove Snow Brand Foods products from their shelves.

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