Japan's tabloid press stir fears over food imports from China
Japanese tabloids create stir over safety of food imports, but retailers' responsibilities ignored
Julian Ryall in Tokyo
Japan's tabloid press has trained its sights on imports of Chinese food, raising questions about the safety of ingredients and production processes.
But Japanese officials have denied there are major problems, and said those that do occur are not specific to Chinese food.
In a cover story for its May 18 edition, the Yukan Fuji news magazine recommended that anyone who buys "highly toxic" Chinese produce takes measures to cleanse them thoroughly before consumption.
The steps the magazine proposed included peeling off the entire outer layer of onions and dipping individual vegetables into boiling oil.
The latest edition of the Nikkan Gendai headlined its lead story: "Extremely toxic rice from China has landed in Japan". Other publications have also been taking aim at ingredients that originate in China but which are used in Japanese-brand processed foodstuffs.
Aera, considered one of the more responsible news magazines in Japan - has also weighed in to the debate, identifying in its May 23 edition the numbers of food safety violations that can be traced back to China.
Top of the list came fresh or frozen green vegetables, with 222 incidents in the past year, 112 cases involving peanuts and 77 linked to other types of vegetables. There were 166 violations in frozen prepared foods, 61 among shellfish and 97 in precooked meat products.
But Hiroyuki Nagayama, a spokesman for the Imported Food Security Division of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare said the most common issue with Chinese food, pesticide residue, "has not been such a major problem" recently.
"This is not only an issue for imports of food from China, because there are also violations in food brought into Japan from the United States, Thailand and other countries," he said.
Roy Larke, a professor of international marketing and Japanese business at Tokyo's Rikkyo University, said: "There have, of course, been high-profile problems with Chinese food supply, but the biggest - the baby powder thing four years ago or so - was not specific to Japan.
"The biggest specific scares I've heard about are for products being produced directly for particular supermarket chains and involving particular factories," he said.
That was the case in 2008, when dozens of people across Japan were taken ill after eating dumplings imported from China that contained insecticide. The contaminated food was traced back to Tianyang Food Processing, which was ordered to halt production and recall all exports that had been already shipped, most of which went to Japan.
The Japanese government called on Beijing to carry out an investigation and prevent another outbreak in the future, although the Japanese media were keen to play the incident up.
But Larke said Japan needs to take more responsibility for the safety of the food its people eat.
He said: "What would concern me is that even in such valid cases, the quality control of the Japanese supermarkets and intermediary import suppliers was rarely mentioned even though, presumably, they should have final responsibility in terms of what's in their stores."