Posted by: Ian Rowley on February 29, 2008
When news broke that gyoza dumplings imported from China by Japan Tobacco’s food arm contained dangerous levels of a pesticide, hospitalizing ten people, the authorities from both countries initially made all the right noises and agreed to work together to find out the cause of the problem. A month later, both sides—neither of which appear any closer to finding a culprit —now seem to be intent on blaming each other.
On Feb. 28, Chinese officials surprised Japanese counterparts when they said that an inquiry had found no problems at the factory of Tianyang Foods, which made the dodgy dumplings. “We conclude that the dumpling-poisoning incident in Japan is an individual contrived case instead of a food-safety case resulting from pesticide residue,” Wei Chuanzhong, vice minister of China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, told reporters.
For good measure, China also appeared to chastise the Japanese police. Japanese media reported that Yu Xinmin, deputy director general of the criminal investigation department at the Public Security Ministry, expressed “deep regret” that Japanese police declined requests by Chinese officers to inspect some of the evidence from Japan.
Predictably, none of that has gone down very well in Japan. “The Chinese side’s announcement of its opinion all of a sudden at a news conference without providing any specific information and analysis results is not going to solve the problem” complained National Public Safety Commission Chairman Shinya Izumi added. The Japanese police added that they were baffled at the Chinese criticism. “We have presented all valuable documents to the Chinese side, so I cannot understand why they expressed regret,” Commissioner General Hiroto Yoshimura said in a press conference on Thursday.
All of which is of little benefit to anyone. Arguably, China has most to lose. After all, the longer the story is in the news, the more its exporters will suffer. Arguing the toss with Japan can only prolong concern among Japanese customers, many of whom wonder how the pesticide, which isn’t used in Japan, found its way into the poisoned dumplings. Surely it would make more sense to promise to redouble safety efforts and focus on winning the PR battle by working closely with Japanese counterparts.
For its part, Japan doesn’t have much to gain from the bickering. Its consumers, already feeling the pinch from higher food prices, will either miss out on food they would otherwise buy if they rule out Chinese imports, or pay more for locally produced substitutes. Meanwhile, importers, like Japan, face falling profits and increased costs as they ramp up safety procedures.