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May 30, 2006

Positive-list System Starts

Report by Seiichi Saruishi

Industry Asserts "We've taken every measure conceivable."
Contingencies such as Drift Hazard Cause Concern

The positive-list system for residual agricultural chemicals went into effect on May 29. Under the system, all residues of agricultural chemicals are banned in principle, and chemicals that are not banned (i.e. chemicals for which residue is tolerated) are listed and permissible levels specified. The distribution of food containing more than a certain level of agricultural chemicals or other substances for which no standard has been set, will be banned. The system is aimed at controlling agricultural chemicals, animal drugs and additives in animal feed and will be applied to all food including processed foodstuffs.

The positive-list system will have the following effects: (1) The distribution of food containing more than the permissible level of residue of any of the 799 agricultural chemicals and other substances for which standards have been set, will be banned; (2) The distribution of food containing more than a certain level (0.01 ppm) of agricultural chemicals or other substances for which no standard has been set, will be banned; (3) The 65 substances specified by the Minister for Health, Labour and Welfare (specific agricultural chemicals and other substances that are clearly of no harm to human health) have been excluded from the scope of the positive-list system.

Manufacturers and trading houses that deal in frozen vegetables all make the same point: "We've already taken all the measures that we could have been expected to take. We have created the best possible systems for thoroughly controlling, regulating and testing agricultural chemicals used, involving ourselves from the field-preparation stage." As to what they should do now that the positive-list has come into effect, they say "In the event that a food should be found to be in breach of the positive-list (i.e. to contain more than the maximum residue limit of a chemical), we need to be able to investigate the cause of the breach by tracing back through the production history (a traceability system)." They all agree that the most frightening prospect facing them is "a drift (carrying agricultural chemicals) incident."

On the Alert for Third-party Malice

Before the system came into effect, mass merchandisers, convenience stores and food manufacturers that use frozen vegetables as ingredients in their food products, approached the manufacturers and trading houses in quick succession with requests like "Please issue a guarantee certificate." However, many of the manufacturers refused, describing these requests as "unreasonable." It's not that these companies don't have confidence in their produce. Even when they take every step possible to prevent incidents caused by the drifting of agricultural chemicals, they cannot block all incidents. Moreover, their decision not to offer guarantees is understandable if we consider their concerns over possible malicious interference by a third party.

Talk to the effect that "The Chinese authorities have stepped up their guard. Apparently they won't allow food to be exported to Japan for a while." is circulating among people in the industry. People are saying that following the strengthening of regulations in Japan, "Chinese officials are going to stop issuing export licenses because they fear for their jobs." Regardless of whether or not this is true, both the Japanese and Chinese governments are definitely experiencing tension and exports from China to Japan in May are expected to fall below the May-2005 figure.

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