02/05/2008, 00.00
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Chinese dumplings deliberately contaminated, says Japanese health minister

Minister gives no details about his claim as inquiry comes up with nothing so far. For experts the amount of chemicals found is too high to just be accidental residues from processing. The company involved is well-known and liked.

Tokyo (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Japan’s Health Minister Yoichi Masuzoe said on Tuesday that he suspected the mainland-made dumplings that sickened thousands were deliberately contaminated with pesticide. He declined however to elaborate on his claims.

Pesticide was detected on the package wrapping and in frozen meat dumplings made by the Tianyang Food Co. whose parent company is the Hebei Foodstuffs Import and Export  Corp. The product is imported into Japan by the Japan Tobacco Foods Co.

A total of 3,742 people have said they became sick after eating the dumplings, the health ministry said, but it noted that only 10 were diagnosed with pesticide poisoning.

The ministry ordered the import company to withdraw tonnes of the product from the market.

The Tyanyang Food Co. is well-known in Japan.

Since November, 606 public schools have served its food (but not its dumplings). Major food importers recalled all food from the Chinese company.

“Concern about the safety of food from China usually involves residual pesticides on fresh vegetables in miniscule amounts,” said Hirokazu Tsubone, director of the University of Tokyo's Research Center for Food Safety, but “considering the sheer amount of chemicals found on these particular prepared food items makes this somewhat of a peculiar case.”

Others believe that the incident is related to a turf war between firms competing in the same market.

Chinese authorities said they were very concerned by the matter and are co-operating in the investigations.

The food inspector of China's northern Hebei province examined dumpling samples produced by Tianyang Food Co. and found no traces of pesticide.

“Japan and China have agreed to cooperate in order to find the cause,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said.

Some people make bold speculation but we should not carelessly talk about criminality before facts become clear,” Mr Machimura added.

A Japanese delegation left on Sunday for China to visit pesticide retailers and farmhouses near the factory that produced the contaminated dumplings.

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