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Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2008

DPJ slams decision to hide news on 'gyoza'


Staff writer

The Democratic Party of Japan lashed out at the government Tuesday for suppressing information for a month that China had suffered a food poisoning outbreak from pesticide-tainted frozen "gyoza" dumplings, just like Japan had from the same source.

A DPJ task force submitted a petition to the prime minister's office demanding that Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda clarify why he followed the Foreign Ministry's decision to sit on the news, at Beijing's request, and justify how he can call his Cabinet consumer-oriented. The government confirmed the incident after the media broke the story.

The Foreign Ministry admitted it was told by China in July that four Chinese had suffered food poisoning in June by eating pesticide-tainted gyoza made by the same company that had caused the Japan outbreak in January. Reports said the tainted gyoza had been recalled and then reintroduced onto the market.

Masahiro Kohara, a senior official at the Foreign Ministry's Asia Oceanian Affairs Bureau, told a meeting of the DPJ task force that China asked Japan not to disclose the information because it might negatively affect its investigation into the poisonings.

The ministry "decided to respect the request and did not reveal the information except to certain (quarters in) the government," Kohara said.

"To secure future food safety, it is essential to learn the truth through the investigation," he said.

The Foreign Ministry bureau in charge of looking into the gyoza incident received the information July 8 during the Group of Eight summit in Hokkaido, and the bureau chief made the decision to sit on the information, Kohara said.

The ministry told the prime minister's office the same day, indicating that was when Fukuda learned of the outbreak. The National Police Agency was given the information by the Foreign Ministry although the health and agriculture ministries had to learn about it through the media.

The DPJ task force members did not buy the rationale behind suppressing the news and kept pressing the ministry to explain its actions and chiding Fukuda for not coming clean at the time.

"The Foreign Ministry decided not to reveal the information, and the prime minister's office followed that," DPJ lawmaker Kazunori Yamanoi said. "This means Fukuda did not change the decision. Did he put China's request above Japanese citizens' concerns about food safety?"



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