Avoid hysteria over food

As the mystery surrounding incidents of food poisoning caused by gyoza dumplings imported from China intensifies, it is becoming even more important for Japanese to avoid hysteria over Chinese imports and for Japanese media to be coolheaded in reporting about China and its products. It goes without saying that Japanese and Chinese authorities should deepen cooperation to find out how the poisonous chemicals got into the gyoza.

Two kinds of pesticides were found in the gyoza from a factory in Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province: methamidophos, an organo-phosphate, in gyoza made Oct. 1 and 20 (even inside an airtight package); and dichlorvos, another organo-phosphate, in gyoza made June 3. Both were detected in high concentration. A package of the June 3 gyoza was found to carry benzene, which is not used in Japan as a farm chemical solvent. The possibility cannot be ruled out that the chemicals got into the products in China, even during the production process. In Beijing, a high-ranking quarantine official mentioned the possibility that an “extreme element” deliberately placed the chemicals in the gyoza.

The development may lead Japanese people to think that all the food from China has safety problems. But such an attitude would only fuel anti-Japanese feelings among Chinese people and eventually harm bilateral relations. The reality is that interdependence between Japan and China is deep. Slightly less than 70 percent of imported frozen food is processed in China. Shunning all food from China would only lead to rises in food prices in Japan. The larger picture is that China replaced the United States as Japan’s largest trade partner in 2006.

That year, Japan and China agreed to seek a “strategic relationship” that is mutually beneficial in such matters as energy development, environmental protection and efforts to solve North Korea’s nuclear-weapons issue. Last year saw Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visit each other’s country. Chinese President Hu Jintao is scheduled to visit Japan in April for the first time. Thus the gyoza incident should not be used to fan distrust of China.