Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

The Alarming Lack of Scientific Reasoning in Eliminating "Made in China" Products
KARAKI Hideaki  /  Professor Emeritus, University of Tokyo

December 19, 2014
Hostile reactions to imported food products from China continue unabated. But is it really fair to say that Chinese products are as dangerous as some weekly magazines claim they are? As a scientist, I am alarmed at how risk information with no scientific basis is being disseminated.

Let's start by reviewing the facts: imported food products that enter Japan do so after passing a number of stringent inspections.

In China, the National Import & Export Commodities Inspection Corporation conducts an export inspection, and products that pass the test are cleared for export to Japan. Once in Japan, they undergo an import inspection by the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labour. Some of the products are also subjected to sampling inspections, and only those that comply with Japan's Food Sanitation Act are sold on the market. This is followed by further sampling tests undertaken by prefectural governments.

Now, let's take a look at the results. According to the import inspection results for fiscal 2012, the violation rate for food products from China was 0.22%. This is by no means high compared to 0.81% for the United States, 0.71% for Thailand, or 0.45% for South Korea. And when we look at the results of inspections for the same year conducted by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and its 23 wards, the violation rates were 0.19% for domestic food products and 0.11% for imports, showing little difference.

Violations for both imported and domestic products included attachment of E. coli or fungi, and residual additives or pesticides that were either non-designated or exceeded the prescribed limits. In any case, they were minor violations and there were no serious instances that could have led to adverse health effects.

These facts indicate that food products made in Japan and products imported from other countries were equivalent in terms of safety. While there may be media reports based on hearsay that portray imported foods as dangerous, the grounds for such hearsay go unreported. Even if questionable products do make it to Japanese shores, they would fail to pass the inspections. There is next to no chance they would enter Japan, unless as private imports.

While much emphasis has been placed on the "frozen dumpling incident" as an example of damage caused by imported Chinese products, we should maintain a level-headed approach. Any violation in a raw material would affect all the products in that lot, and will therefore be detected during sampling inspections. However, when a pesticide is deliberately injected into a few finished products, it may be difficult to detect. Such was the case with the Aqli Foods Malathion contamination incident in Japan. But that was an isolated case, and it isn't logical to conclude that all products are dangerous.

What concerns me most is that some wards in Tokyo have been swayed by a "risk theory" that has no basis in science and have begun eliminating Chinese food products from school lunches. This is an impermissible act that is taking place at the very site of formal education where science is being taught.

In response to this problem, the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labour has sought to explain the mechanisms that ensure safety and the results of inspections by issuing a "FAQ on surveillance operations on imported foods." However, the Ministry should take this one step further and start countering irrational bashing with scientific facts.

Similarly, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology shouldn't neglect to address the confusion in the field of education and misunderstandings among parents. It should provide guidance on making appropriate decisions based on scientific facts.

I count myself among those who mistrust Chinese intentions where it concerns political or economic issues. Yet, it is my firm belief that we must take a cool-headed approach and consider the possible demerits of demonizing food products from China without heeding the scientific facts and inciting baseless fear among the public. How can this possibly benefit Japan, a country that relies on imports for much of its food? We could also be risking higher prices or food shortages as a consequence. I am pinning my hopes on the government to come forward with a calm response.

Hideaki Karaki is Professor Emeritus of the University of Tokyo and President of the Foundation of Food Safety and Security This article was first published by the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper on November 6, 2014.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

唐木英明 / 東京大学名誉教授 

2014年 12月 19日











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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > The Alarming Lack of Scientific Reasoning in Eliminating "Made in China" Products