The farm ministry penalized the National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations (Zen-noh) on Thursday, ordering its Fukuoka Prefecture headquarters to suspend operations for five days for falsely labeling tea.

The suspension order, which takes effect Monday, covers the making and selling of tea products. It is the first time for a nationwide producer organization to be ordered to suspend business.

At the same time, it ordered Zen-noh to improve operations by punishing senior officials and establishing a system to prevent a recurrence, and to report on improvements by March 14.

Zen-noh officials said that in the face of the punishment, it may have the Fukuoka headquarters retreat from the production and processing of tea.

Tadamori Oshima, agriculture, forestry and fisheries minister, summoned Zen-noh Chairman Junichi Kinoshita to the ministry and handed down the penalty.

Kinoshita said he would not step down to take responsibility for the incident, explaining that it was his duty to work to prevent a recurrence.

According to the ministry, some of the products the headquarters sold as Yame brand tea were found to contain tea produced in different places. The brand, specially produced in Fukuoka Prefecture, is popular for its high quality.

Zen-noh received an operation improvement order in 2002 for falsely labeling farm products. A chicken-processing affiliate in Saitama Prefecture, Zen-noh Chicken Foods Corp., was found to have falsely labeled imported chicken as domestic.

The then chairman of Zen-noh later resigned in connection with the wrongdoing.

Dumpling action begins

OSAKA — Prosecutors on Thursday received papers against Duskin Co., two of its subcontractors and eight former and acting executives in connection with the use of a banned additive in meat dumplings.

The executives are three former officials of Duskin, which manages the Mister Donut chain in Japan, including ex-managing director Shuichi Shibahara, 61, and Seisuke Sugano, 53, former head of the firm’s franchise operations headquarters.

Also named were the president and three senior officials of Hachiban, a food and beverage wholesaler based in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, and the president of Nicky Trading Co., a food import firm based in Osaka.

An investigation determined that officials in the three firms were aware that the antioxidant t-butyl hydroquinone, which is unauthorized under the food sanitation law, was being used in meat dumplings produced in China when they imported about 680,000 of them on Dec. 7 and Dec. 8, 2000.

Duskin, whose main business is a cleaning equipment rental firm based in Suita, Osaka Prefecture, and the wholesale firm in Kanazawa are suspected of selling dumplings containing the additive to 649 shops with which they have franchise agreements between Dec. 4 and 14 the same year.

There were no reported adverse health effects caused by the additive.

Investigators also questioned former Duskin President Takeshi Ueda and his predecessor, Koji Chiba, but Osaka police did not name them in the case as it was determined that they found out about the additive only after the dumplings were sold.

Ueda resigned to take responsibility for the sale of the dumplings.

Prosecutors also received the case against a 51-year-old man whom Duskin claims extorted some 63 million yen from the firm after threatening to publicly reveal that the additives were in the dumplings. However, sources close to the case said the investigation so far suggests it is unlikely he will be indicted because there is little evidence to prove an extortion occurred.

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