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Tainted rice debacle will cost businesses ¥ billions

Date Posted: 2008-09-19

Manufacturers reeling from the discovery Mikasa Foods sold them unedible rice for use in their food and beverage products are now further stunned by the revelation the company had knowingly been doing so for years.

Shochu and sake distillers who purchased rice from Mikasa Foods have been recalling more than one million bottles nationwide. Nishi Shuzo in Kagoshima, maker of Satsuma Hozan, was first to issue a recall, asking distributors to return more than 300,000 bottles while at the same time destroying nearly two million bottles in its warehouses. The losses are expected to exceed ¥400 million. Asahi Breweries Ltd. Says it is recalling more than 650,000 bottles of shochu.

The problem is pesticides in the rice found at double the legal limit of 0.02 parts per million. The Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing Ministry first discovered more than two weeks ago that methamidophos, a toxic pesticide, was contained in rice purchased by Mikasa from the Japanese government, which had bought the rice from China and Vietnam. The rice had been sold to Mikasa with provisions it not be used for edible foods or beverages.

The president of Mikasa Foods has confessed he knew what was going on, telling authorities he was told by the Fukuoka rice company he bought out that “I’ve been doing it this way for more than 10 years.” Mitsuo Fuyuki of Mikasa Foods says he bought the rights to the bankrupt Miyazaki Shoten company, intending to use the rice for making glue. Fuyuki’s admission has rattled the government, which is supposed to be monitoring use of the rice it buys under international trade agreements.

Imported rice is often deemed inedible because of molds, damage or pesticide residues. As government investigators widen their probe, an Osaka-based company has been found negligent in checking its rice for pesticides before selling it. The company admits it shipped rice to a Fukuoka distributor nearly two dozen times, but made fewer than 10 safety tests.

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