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
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
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
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