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The product mislabeling scandal at Meat Hope Co. in Tomakomai, Hokkaido, will deepen consumer distrust of food manufacturers. Police must carry out a thorough investigation. The company not only misled consumers about product content but also carried out practices that compromised product safety. Both the central and Hokkaido prefectural governments are also to blame for improperly handling tipoffs concerning the company’s unethical practices. If government authorities had acted promptly, they could have stopped the practices earlier.

The agriculture ministry says Meat Hope started mislabeling products in 1983 and has sold 368 tons of falsely labeled meat — minced beef mixed with minced pork or chicken labeled as pure ground beef — to Hokkaido Katokichi Co. and 17 other companies since July 2006. Other incidents of false labeling included mixing duck meat and cattle hearts with minced beef, changing use-by dates of frozen fried chicken and yakitori, inserting sliced Australian and other foreign beef into sliced domestic beef, and calling Brazilian chicken “domestic.”

Meat Hope even bought back frozen croquettes from a Hokkaido Katokichi factory chief, changed the use-by dates and resold them to other parties. The company’s practices betrayed the public’s trust in the ethical standards of food manufacturers in general as well as damaged the wholesome image of food products from Hokkaido. The remark by Meat Hope President Minoru Tanaka — “The whole industry is to blame. And consumers who look for cheap products are also to blame” — comes off as obnoxious.

The Tomakomai public health center carried out an on-site inspection after the Hokkaido prefectural government received a tipoff in March 2002, but did not find irregularities. The farm ministry says it sent tipoff information to the prefectural government in March 2006, but the latter denies receiving it. A former employee took mislabeled meat to the farm ministry’s Hokkaido office twice in April 2006, but the office chose not to act. Both the central and prefectural governments’ neglect in protecting food safety standards is most disturbing.

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