The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry unveiled a new government food safety policy Friday that will mark a shift toward a more consumer-oriented approach.

The policy change, to take effect July 1, comes in the wake of widespread criticism following the outbreak of mad cow disease in fall 2001 that the agriculture ministry lacks the crisis-management skills necessary to protect the public.

The “policy framework” on food safety released Friday will commit the farm ministry to making the health of the public its “highest priority” and outline changes in the ministry’s administrative structure to provide greater consumer protection.

The administrative changes to be carried out include establishment of a new bureau of food consumption and safety, appointment of consumer information officers and participation of consumers in ministry advisory councils.

The ministry said it will increase surveillance and monitoring of health hazards in food supplies and strengthen the quarantine system for farm animals.

It will also help farmers carry out their own risk control programs.

In line with these changes, the Cabinet Office will launch the Food Safety Council on July 1 to evaluate the safety of food products under the Basic Food Safety Law enacted last month.

The agriculture ministry’s policy outline was compiled under Senior Vice Minister Naoto Kitamura working together with a food safety task force set up within the ministry last November.

The new policy outline stipulates that the Food Safety Council will take full responsibility for evaluating food-associated risks, including mad cow disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, leaving the ministry to focus on ensuring food safety.

The agriculture ministry said it will also reorganize the Regional Agricultural Administration Offices to strengthen risk-management in places close to food producers.

The number of local agriculture ministry employees involved in food safety administration will increase to 4,200 from 3,000 at present. But the number does not include the personnel at the ministry’s new food consumption and safety bureau.

The ministry said it will abolish the Food Agency and its local offices on July 1, integrating their functions in the Regional Agriculture Administration Offices.

To replace the agency, the ministry will create a new department for food administration in the General Food Policy Bureau that will focus on ensuring stable food supplies, raising the ratio of self-sufficiency in Japan’s food output and reforming rice farming policies.

The ministry also plans to create one additional post of senior councilor for policy coordination to handle international issues and set up a section for environmental issues at the minister’s secretariat.

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