January 30, 2002–TOKYO–The president of a major Japanese food company has resigned over a widening scandal involving the mislabeling of beef as a way to profit from the country’s mad-cow scare.
Snow Brand Food Co. President Shozo Yoshida apologized, saying the measure deceived the public, and that he has submitted his resignation.
“We are very sorry for causing such a big disturbance. I am resigning to take responsibility for the series of improper actions,” Yoshida said in televised news conference.
Yoshida told The Associated Press that the company was considering withdrawing from the meat business.
Snow Brand Food was stung by scandal last week for allegedly trying to pack Australian beef in containers with made-in-Japan labels to profit from a government scheme to buy up and incinerate domestic beef kept in storage to ease consumer concerns. The company admitted that it mislabeled 30 tons more than twice as much as it earlier acknowledged of imported beef as part of 300 tons of domestic beef in storage.
The government is set to spend millions of dollars (billions of yen) on the project. Australia is believed to be free from the brain-wasting illness, which is linked to a fatal variant in humans called Creutzfeld Jakob disease.
Japan’s agriculture minister Tsutomu Takebe criticized Snow Brand Food over the beef-labeling fraud, saying the government is preparing to file a criminal complaint over the company’s mislabeling of Australian beef as homegrown. A thorough investigation is also planned.
“It’s criminal,” Takebe said. “It’s just appalling”
The company’s confession followed the discovery last September of a cow infected with the brain-wasting disease at a dairy farm in Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost main island.
Two more cases have been since confirmed in the first outbreak outside Europe. Sales of beef have plunged as a result.
In admitting to the scam, the meatpacking company also confirmed labeling beef from Hokkaido, northern Japan, as coming from Kumamoto in the south a region thought to be relatively unaffected by mad cow contamination to sell the meat on the market.
The scandal came less than two years after more than 14,000 people fell ill from drinking milk produced by the parent company, Snow Brand Milk Products Co. in the country’s worst case of food poisoning. Snow Brand Milk is Japan’s biggest dairy maker.
A subsequent probe revealed that the company was guilty of sloppy sanitation practices including recycling old milk returned from stores.
Supermarkets responded by pulling Snow Brand products from their shelves following calls from angry consumers, and the agriculture minister said Friday that the government was preparing to take legal action.