Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Tuesday he will seek enactment of a new basic food safety law next year in a bid to erase widespread public distrust stemming from the government’s failure to keep mad cow disease out of Japan.

In the day’s meeting of Cabinet ministers related to food safety, Koizumi also pledged to set up an independent commission of experts to oversee food safety.

According to a government statement, Jin Murai, chairman of the National Public Safety Commission, will plan and prepare for the establishment of the new commission.

The Cabinet secretariat also set up a preparatory office that will draft the legislation necessary to get the commission up and running, with senior officials from the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry and the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry taking part.

The government has been harshly criticized for its inattentiveness to the spread of mad cow disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy. The mad cow scare was followed by a series of scandals in which food companies deliberately mislabeled their products.

The planned commission, however, has already attracted criticism that its creation will further bloat the bureaucracy. In an attempt to squelch the din, farm minister Tsutomu Takebe and health minister Chikara Sakaguchi decided to scrap parts of other government bodies, including the Food Agency, which mainly deals with rice-supply control.

As far as getting the commission up and running, the two ministers’ next chore will be to separate risk-management divisions in their ministries from industry-promotion sections.

Meanwhile, the government plans to submit bills to the next regular Diet session, which convenes in January, that would enact the new basic food safety law and revise existing ones dealing with consumer protection.

The food law would clarify that suppliers are primarily responsible for food safety. It would also call for consumers to be given opportunities to actively contribute to government measures and express their opinions.

It would require risk analysis be introduced before the government could decide on any food-related measure. The planned commission would be in charge of carrying out these measures on the basis of the latest scientific findings.

The bills would also call on the government to take provisional risk-management measures promptly and appropriately if they are deemed necessary from a preventive viewpoint.

In addition, the commission would be in charge of evaluating health risks and hazards presented by foodstuffs, except drugs. It would advise the government and local authorities on appropriate measures. It would also make sure that the government and local authorities implement these measures. , hear opinions directly from consumers, and gather information on harmful foods in and outside the country.

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