Friday, 10 October 2008

News From Japan Times

Friday, Oct. 3, 2008

U. of Tokyo sold rice tainted with illegal chemical
Crop went to public, school cafeterias in '90s
Kyodo News
The University of Tokyo, the country's top academic institution, revealed Thursday that a banned agrochemical was used to grow rice at its research farm in a Tokyo suburb for three years through 1999, and that around 3.6 tons of the harvest was sold to faculty members and consumers.

The rice from the farm was reportedly sold to the university's co-op and served in campus cafeterias in the late 1990s. While most of the 3.6 tons in question was sold to people living near the farm, some was sold to faculty members. The remaining details were not clear.

The banned chemical was phenylmercury acetate. No injuries have been reported so far from its use, the university said. The substance has been banned from use in agriculture since 1973.

The university said an employee at the farm in Nishi-Tokyo used a solution of tablets chiefly comprising phenylmercury acetate once a year as a disinfectant. Rice seed was soaked in the solution for about five to six hours, it said.

The employee told the university that he was aware it was a banned substance but used the chemical because diseases were spreading.

The incident was exposed by a whistle blower on Sept. 18, the university said.

The university said it has set up an investigation panel to check if any mercury residue remains in the rice or soil, and that it will also brief residents near the farm.

The revelation by the country's top academic institution may worsen public concerns over food safety, which were recently heightened by the scandal over melamine-contaminated milk products imported from China. Melamine can cause kidney stones.

Last week, Osaka-based Marudai Food Co. revealed that four commercial food products were tainted, but said no health problems were reported.

In China, melamine-tainted powdered infant milk made by several major dairy firms has already killed four babies and made thousands ill and in need of hospitalization.

Some food suppliers in China mixed melamine into milk they diluted with water to make the milk appear to be rich in protein.

On Wednesday, major trading house Kanematsu Corp. said that toxic melamine has been detected in Chinese-made frozen cakes it imported, marking the second case in which the substance has been found in food products sold in Japan.

The industrial chemical was detected in Macau Egg Tart Kanematsu marketed via JTB Trading Inc., a subsidiary of major travel agency JTB Corp.

Kanematsu said the quantity of melamine detected is extremely small — 1.4 parts per million — and that there have been no reports of health problems being caused by the cakes.

Nevertheless, the company has decided to recall the 289 packages that were sold.

The product was sold via JTB Trading's Web site as a package containing 18 pieces of tart for ¥5,460.

Kanematsu became the second company to announce that it had sold food products contaminated with melamine in Japan, after Marudai Food Co.

On Saturday, public health officials in Osaka Prefecture said they have detected melamine in food products that were recalled by Marudai due to fear they may contain Chinese-made milk tainted with the chemical.

Melamine is a chemical synthesized from urea and ammonia and is usually used for adhesives, paints and dishware.

coutesy of The Japan Times Online
Recd: Friday, 3 Oct, 2008 12: 02 AM

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