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After toxic “gyoza” dumplings imported from China were found tainted with the farm chemical methamidophos in January 2008, the administration of then Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda put forth the idea of creating a Consumer Agency.

As the new Diet session, which started this week, is likely to focus on a second supplementary budget for fiscal 2008 and on the fiscal 2009 budget to rescue the Japanese economy, lawmakers should not forget about separate bills proposed by the ruling bloc and the Democratic Party of Japan to create an entity to protect and expand the rights of consumers.

Mr. Fukuda called for a switch from the traditional producers-first to a consumers-first policy. As if taking a cue from this philosophy, both the ruling and opposition camps at one time were vocal about enhancing consumers’ rights. But as the Japanese economy entered a crisis and the government and political parties became obsessed with policy measures to tide over economic difficulties, their enthusiasm for consumer protection seems to have evaporated.

The gyoza poisoning cases were followed by a series of irregularities related to food security, such as the false labeling of eels from China, the resale of contaminated rice to companies producing edible rice products, and the detection of the toxic substance melamine in food products. These incidents showed that the government and enterprises have failed to take sufficient caution to ensure the safety of food products, underlining the need for strengthening the government’s function to protect consumers. Inaction on the part of the government and the Diet would increase consumers’ worries.

Creating a new entity to promote the rights of consumers would require enormous work because it would involve examining the consumer administrative functions of various ministries, taking powers and personnel from them, and consolidating them into one new entity. Both the ruling and opposition camps should set aside political confrontations and work together to present the public a clear schedule for creating the new entity.

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