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June 28, 2005

Food Safety in the Public Eye Again
Consecutive Outbreaks of BSE, Avian-flu Virus and 0-157
Companies Zealous About Quality Assurance

Mikio Sato, Executive Editor

In the wake of the confirmation of another BSE-positive cow in the U.S.A, followed by cases of avian influenza virus and 0-157 food-poisoning in Japan last week, consumer concerns about food have heightened once again. The increased anxiety could have repercussions on the consumption of frozen food. It is certain that the establishment of a product quality assurance system will become an even more important element in business operations. However, safety measures involve costs. As frozen-food companies are already grappling with the soaring costs of raw materials, they will likely find it increasingly difficult to keep their accounts in balance.
The fact that BSE, bird flue and O-157 all happened practically at the same time has focussed attention on food safety again.
It was June 25 Japanese time when the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the second case of BSE in the USA. The incidents of 0-157 food poisoning at a special nursing home for the aged in Hokkaido and of bird-flu infection at a poultry farm in Ibaraki Prefecture were discovered on June 26. As both days were weekend days (Saturday and Sunday), the news reached more people in their living rooms than would have been possible on a weekday.
Moreover, a comment made by U.S. Agricultural Secretary by way of emphasizing the low safety risk of beef "The BSE threat to humans in this country is so remote that there's a better chance you'll get hurt crossing the street to get to the grocery store than by the beef you buy in the grocery store," had the opposite to the desired effect and roused peopleユs concerns over the safety of beef. The fact that the place where the BSE-infected cow was found wasnユt made public served to intensify peopleユs unease.
At the special nursing home for the aged in Hokkaido, two elderly people died as a result of 0-157 food-poisoning. Apart from bringing home the importance of food safety to consumers, the incident served as a stark reminder of how scary the consequences can be if the correct steps are not taken to deal with an O-157 outbreak.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries stressed the weakness of the avian-flu virus strain detected in Mitsukaido in Ibaraki Prefecture, but it banned the shipment of eggs or chicken meat from farms within a five-kilometre radius of the poultry farm where the virus was detected and culled 25,000 chickens on the affected farm.
The series of food alerts has led food manufacturers to double-check their raw-material procurement routes and quality control systems and tackle the task of guaranteeing the safety of their products with a renewed resolve. They are also putting effort into responding to queries from customers.
However, quality assurance cannot be implemented without increasing costs, and this makes the business environment harsher than ever for small and medium-sized enterprises in particular. By contrast, large companies have structured responses in place.

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