The mystery surrounding the poisonous chemical that tainted frozen “gyoza” meat and vegetable dumplings made in China deepened Friday as an extremely high density of the pesticide was detected in remaining samples from a family in the city of Chiba’s Inage Ward who fell ill after eating the product.
According to research by Co-op Net, an association of cooperatives, the density of the detected pesticide was 130 parts per million, which is 100 to 400 times higher than Japanese food regulation standards for Chinese chives and cabbage, common ingredients for gyoza.
This high density of methamidophos indicates the chemical did not come from pesticide residue left during the cultivation of the vegetables but was instead added somewhere during the production or distribution process, experts said.
Police meanwhile said they have found a 3-mm hole in a package of dumplings that a family in Takasago, Hyogo Prefecture, ate before feeling sick in early January. Because the hole was not made by the family or investigators, someone may have pierced the package with a needle to inject pesticide, they said.
“At this moment, how this hole was made is not clear, including whether this was made by someone on purpose or just by accident,” a senior Hyogo Prefectural Police official said.
The National Police Agency said no similar hole was found in a package of dumplings the Chiba family consumed in late December before also falling ill.
As of Friday evening, 1,088 people in 38 prefectures had reported falling ill after eating products made by the Chinese firm, Tianyang Food, including gyoza.
However, the illness claims have not all been confirmed to be linked to the pesticide found in the Tianyang Food samples tested.
Following the food poisonings linked to the tainted frozen gyoza, the health ministry plans to legally require local-level authorities to report even small-scale poisoning cases to the central government, ministry officials said Friday.
Officials said the decision to revise the Food Sanitation Law to require reporting stems from public criticism over the decision by the city of Chiba not to disclose the first outbreak of poisoning for nearly a month.
Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Yoichi Masuzoe meanwhile told a news conference the government could have prevented the spread of the poisoning had it obtained information on the first outbreak in late December.
According to media reports, although importers first received complaints and relayed them to local health authorities in late December, officials failed to pass the information on to the health ministry due to the New Year’s holidays.
Masuzoe said the government must be able to swiftly gather information to cope with similar incidents.
The minister added that the government could enforce Article 8 of the Food Sanitation Law, which allows Japan to unilaterally ban imports of food products if serious health risks are found. However, Masuzoe did not specifically mention Chinese products as a possible target.
The law requires prefectures and major cities to report food poisoning cases that sicken 50 or more people to the state. This threshold number does not apply in cases of fatalities or suspected food poisoning from imported food.
Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura urged the Chinese government to fully investigate the case and to take preventive measures.
“The public have a very strong interest in the issue of food safety,” Komura said, indicating the incident would hurt Japan-China relations.
“I believe the negative impact could be minimized if the two countries cooperate with each other,” he said.
On Friday, JT Foods Co., an affiliate of Japan Tobacco Inc. that imports the products, said it received nearly 3,000 inquiries and complaints about the food poisoning case from consumers and others in the morning.
JT Foods said it plans to recall 48,000 cases of products.
China experts to visit
BEIJING (Kyodo) China will send a group of experts to Japan from Saturday to investigate together with Japanese authorities the food-poisoning case linked to tainted Chinese-made frozen “gyoza” dumplings, Beijing’s quality control watchdog said Friday.
The General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine also said tests carried out on 30 samples of products and ingredients at the factory that produced the dumplings showed no traces of pesticides believed to be behind the poisonings.
The Japan-bound group will include officials from the Commerce Ministry and the Chinese Academy of Inspection and Quarantine, the administration said in a statement on its Web site.
The brief statement did not mention the duration of the team’s stay in Japan. The administration said at a press briefing Thursday that it was sending a group of experts, but did not mention when they would depart or who would be participating.
In a separate statement, the administration said tests on the 30 samples at the Tianyang Food factory in Hebei Province, carried out by a team of its experts, did not show residues of agricultural chemicals.
SDF survives cutlets
Frozen meals produced by the Chinese company being blamed for a widespread food-poisoning outbreak were served at five Self-Defense Forces bases, but no reports of illness have surfaced so far, Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba said Friday.
Cutlets made by Tianyang Food of China were served at the Maritime Self-Defense Force base in Kanoya, Kagoshima Prefecture, and the Air Self-Defense Force bases in Iruma, Saitama Prefecture, Komatsu, Ishikawa Prefecture, Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, and Hofuminami, Yamaguchi Prefecture.
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