(AFP) – Feb 28, 2008
BEIJING (AFP) — China deflected blame on Thursday for a Japan food poisoning scare involving Chinese-made dumplings, suggesting criminal intent, but a top Japanese police official demanded proof of the claim.
China's top product safety watchdog said its own investigation had absolved the Chinese dumpling maker of culpability, saying the food was laced with a pesticide after production, but probably not in China.
"We believe the Japan 'poison dumpling incident' is not a food safety problem caused by pesticide residues but is an isolated deliberate crime," said Wei Chuanzhong, deputy director of China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine.
"The act of contaminating the dumplings was very unlikely to have happened in China," he said at a press conference.
The Chinese investigation was sparked by the pesticide poisoning of at least 10 people in Japan, who fell ill after eating frozen dumplings made in a factory near Beijing.
As the news of the poisonings broke last month, thousands of other Japanese complained of illness after eating dumplings from China.
The incident raised new concerns about Chinese food safety standards and left a stain on an improving picture for historically rocky bilateral ties ahead of an expected upcoming Japan visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao.
The Chinese findings released Thursday run counter to Japanese claims that the contamination of the dumplings, produced by the Tianyang Food plant outside Beijing, likely occurred in China.
"We want them to produce scientific data to back their claims," Hiroto Yoshimura, head of the National Police Agency, told reporters in Tokyo.
China, which has been embarrassed by a string of safety scandals involving its exports since last year, has typically responded by denying any Chinese wrongdoing and accusing foreign parties and the media of "hyping" safety fears.
Wei told the press conference the investigation into Tianyang also found no problems with the company's production methods.
A senior Chinese official involved in the investigation acknowledged the differing conclusions over where the contamination occurred.
"The Japanese side says there is no possibility they were poisoned in Japan. We say there is very little possibility it occurred in China," Yu Xinmin, deputy head of criminal investigation with China's Public Security Bureau, told the press conference.
He added that the two sides should intensify a joint probe into the matter.
Wei said the findings "do not exclude the possibility of a person from a third country or region illegally purchasing the relevant pesticide and bringing it into Japan." He offered no details.
The dumplings were laced with a pesticide called methamidophos not widely available in Japan.
Japanese police have said the pesticide was found inside bags of dumplings that were packaged and sealed in China with no punctures or signs that chemicals seeped in from the outside.
The scare led Japanese food distributors and importers to recall Chinese-made products.
The row was further complicated last week when meat buns imported to Japan from China contained the same pesticide.
The incidents have struck a deep chord in Japan, which relies on imports for 60 percent of its food, with China the top provider after the United States.
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