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The farm ministry uncovered 879 cases of mislabeled food products last year but only disclosed 110 of them in order to protect the companies responsible, according to documents obtained from the ministry Saturday.

The 879 cases involve companies that were issued warnings or guidance by the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry or its regional offices during the year, the documents show. The documents were obtained through an information disclosure request.

A ministry official said it decided not to announce all of the cases because it might deliver “a big social blow” to firms that got caught up in mislabeling through simple negligence or temporary law-infringement cases. It therefore decided only to announce cases it considered “malicious” or requiring orders to take corrective measures.

The remarks highlight the ministry’s admitted stance of placing more importance on corporate interests rather than those of consumers. It also raises questions about whether the government is disclosing information on food products appropriately ahead of the launch later this year of a new all-in-one consumer affairs agency.

Among cases not publicized was one involving the labeling of Chinese-raised eels as those from Oita and Kagoshima prefectures.

There were also cases in which farm-raised “ayu” fish were labeled as wild, a case in which rice harvested in 2007 was packed in October 2008 and labeling “newly harvested,” and meat that was repacked merely to extend the expiration date.

There were also at least 80 cases in which products, such as vegetables and coffee beans, were labeled “organic” although they have not been approved as “organic” by the central government.

Besides the farm ministry, prefectural governments have the right to issue guidance to companies found to have violated labeling laws, so there is a possibility information on more mislabeling cases has been kept secret.

The farm ministry issues guidance and warnings in line with the Law Concerning Standardization and Proper Labeling of Agricultural and Forestry Products, or the so-called JAS law.

The proper names that appeared on the documents obtained by Kyodo, such as product names, the firms that sold them, and the places where they were sold, were blacked out by the ministry.

However, there are cases where sellers voluntarily disclosed mislabeling.

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