BEIJING -- Criticism over China's frozen dumpling exports to Japan could worsen the bilateral trade environment and cause unnecessary disputes over other foods, a Chinese researcher said on Sunday.
Tang Chunfeng, an expert on Japanese issues with the Research Institute of the Ministry of Commerce, said that he was very concerned about the dumpling scare. "Since the real cause is still under investigation, I don't think it wise to blame the Chinese side for it," he said.
Nearly 300 people have sought medical treatment, with one girl in serious condition, since a Japanese company last week said that frozen meat dumplings produced at the Tianyang Food Plant in Hebei Province contained insecticide, according to Japanese media reports.
Japanese authorities found an insecticide called methamidophos in the vomit of the poisoned people and food packages at their houses.
But tests showed that the rest of the dumplings from the same batches sold in Japan, totaling more than 2,000 packages, were safe. So were all the other products made by the Chinese company, said Wang Daning, an official at the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine.
Cheng Fang, the Hebei Provincial Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau director, said that China had banned the use of the pesticide in question (methamidophos) since 2004.
"We investigated samples of dumplings that affected the Japanese, as well as dumplings produced within 11 days around the dates of October 1 and October 20. No traces of the pesticide were found," he said.
Investigators have queried 30 workers of Tianyang and the purchasing, manufacturing, storing and transporting processes of the factory without finding any problem with food quality, he added.
Di Menglu, Tianyang Food manager, ruled out the possibility of contamination when he spoke on Saturday evening at a press conference. He said that the dumplings had been put into sealed containers once they came off the production lines. He said that the factory was "shocked" at the incident and suspended production on Wednesday afternoon. All its products were recalled.
Ding extended his sympathy, on behalf of all factory workers, to the Japanese consumers, expressed hope for their early recovery and pledged to cooperate fully with investigators.
"Since the investigators in Japan and China have agreed not to release any subjective judgment before a final result comes out, media from both countries had better wait and avoid being emotional and sensational," Tang said.
As an expert who participated in official bilateral negotiations on farm produce trade many times, Tang said that the dispute was touching a sensitive nerve in Japan -- food self-sufficiency.
"Some Japanese officials were very concerned with the country's dependency on food imports," he said, citing Japanese figures that showed in 2005, domestic supply accounted for only 26 percent of Japan's food consumption. That was far below the internationally accepted baseline of 42 percent, he said.
As Japanese-grown agricultural products were much more expensive than Chinese imports, Japanese businesses preferred to bring in food from China, which would increase profits, he explained.
China's exports to Japan rose 11.4 percent year-on-year to hit 102.07 billion US dollars last year. But that figure was dwarfed by China's imports from Japan, which hit 133.95 billion US dollars, up 15.8 percent year-on-year, according to China's customs figures.