National

Consumer body wants local-level food scrutiny

Kyodo

Responding to recent food frauds committed by hotel and department store operators, the Consumer Affairs Agency is aiming to amend the products labeling law to let prefectures issue improvement orders to businesses that violate the law, government sources said Monday.

Under the existing Act Against Unjustifiable Premiums and Misleading Representations, only the Consumer Affairs Agency has the authority to order firms to stop misrepresenting items on their menus or to take steps to prevent further violations. But in practice, it is not possible for the agency to keep tabs on all the eateries and restaurants nationwide.

The recent revelations of misrepresentations have triggered calls from the ruling bloc and prefectural and municipal governments to give local governments more authority.

As things now stand, prefectural governments are allowed to inspect companies and instruct those linked to food fraud to stop breaking the law, or ask the Consumer Affairs Agency to issue orders. But the local governments have no legal grounds to issue such orders themselves.

The Act Against Unjustifiable Premiums and Misleading Representations prohibits attempts to mislead consumers by representing products as more expensive or better than they actually are. Violators are issued improvement orders, which if they fail to heed could result in imprisonment of up to two years or a fine not to exceed ¥3 million.

The Consumer agency has 50 staffers who deal with issues related to the labeling law. However, since the agency’s establishment in September 2009, only four firms caught mislabeling food have been ordered to stop. Food fraud cases are expected to soar if local governments are authorized to go after violators.