English Newsletter

Food Safety Citizens' Watch
English Newsletter

Issue # 13, Irradiated SoyAct ingredient problem should be thoroughly investigated December 2007

Food Safety Citizens' Watch was established in April 2003 as a network of experts to monitor developments and make proposals to the government regarding food safety issues from the citizen's point of view.

December 10, 2007

Meeting with politicians and consumers

Food irradiation using gamma rays etc. damages the DNA of bacteria and has sterilization effects. Food irradiation has also been used to kill insects and stop germination. The efforts to promote food irradiation are supported by Japan's Atomic Energy Commission. The Ministry for Health, Labour and Welfare is making preparations for allowing the controversial technology to be used on spices by the end of March 2008.

Against this background, it was reported on June 1, 2007, that Kikkoman Corp. had recalled a product called SoyAct, due to the possibility of irradiation in the United States. Importing irradiated food is illegal in Japan. On November 15, a meeting was held at the Japanese Parliament with Assembly Members from several political parties, officials from the Health Ministry, and from the Food Safety Commission. The Food Irradiation Opposition Campaign Group representing consumers who oppose food irradiation was also present at the meeting.

On this occasion, it was pointed out that the biggest problem was to get factual verification whether SoyAct had been irradiated or not in the United States. After Kikkoman had announced its recall, the Ministry of Health sent a letter with questions to the US Food and Drug Administration via the US embassy on June 5, 2007. A formal reply was not received until August 24, but this lacked any details if irradiation had taken place or not. The Japanese government then made a second formal request to get factual verification, but has not yet received any reply from the United States.

Discrepancy between Japanese and English versions of the letter

The original letter sent to the US embassy was formulated in Japanese. The US embassy then translated it into English, and forwarded it to the FDA. However, that English version of the letter is very different compared to the original Japanese letter. Nothing was mentioned regarding the verification issue, and other sections were missing. For example, the Japanese government wanted to know the actual level of irradiation used on SoyAct. Since the approved dose limit for fruits and vegetables is 1 kGray in the United States, the Japanese version of the letter noted that there is a possibility of the breach of US law. These points had been removed on purpose from the English version.

Several participants reacted to this. It was pointed out that the Ministry of Health and the United States both appear to have a mindset to downplay the seriousness of this issue. Participants also strongly suggested that Japanfs embassy in the US should ask the FDA directly, in order to avoid a situation where the US will simply be able to ignore the problem.

Voluntary recalls limited to 2%

During the meeting, it became clear that only 2% of the products had been voluntarily recalled by Kikkoman Corp. The names of companies that uses SoyAct ingredients were not made public. However, the Ministry of Health did not think it was necessary to take any further legal action, because it was not clear if irradiation had taken place or not. Participants at the meeting expressed the view that a legal measure, such as a mandatory recall, was in fact necessary, since food irradiation is prohibited under Japanfs Food Sanitation Law. Using the US Freedom of Information Act to get more details was also suggested.

During the meeting, the Food Irradiation Opposition Campaign Group presented the result of a consumer survey regarding food irradiation. 11,700 people gave their opinions, with 88% replying that they were opposed to food irradiation. In addition, 72% replied that they did not know that food irradiation was being used. The survey showed beyond any doubt that this is a technology that we, the consumers, have absolutely no need for.

By Ichimura Tadafumi