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China investigates tainted dumplings

/ Source: The Associated Press

China on Thursday said it was investigating a company whose insecticide-tainted frozen dumplings sickened 10 people in Japan, in the latest crisis to rock China's scandal-hit food export business.

China's export safety watchdog said it knew of the incident involving products from Tianyang Food Processing and was "paying great attention to it."

"We have quickly gotten in touch with the Japanese side to get a detailed understanding of the situation," the General Administration for Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said in a statement posted on its Web site.

"We have already started an investigation and will release the results in a timely manner," the administration said.

Telephone calls to Tianyang, headquartered in the northern city of Jinzhou, and its parent company, Hebei Foodstuffs Import & Export Group, were unanswered.

China's reputation as a safe exporter has taken a beating in the past year following the discovery of dangerous chemicals tainting products from toothpaste to toys and a pet food ingredient. Amid repeated product recalls, China announced a series of measures to boost supervision, and officials declared a four-month quality and safety campaign that ended in December as a success.

With the Beijing Olympic Games less than 200 days away, authorities have pledged rigorous measures to ensure safe food supplies, even unveiling an Olympic Food Safety Command Center to deal with food emergencies.

"I'm afraid there was a rather loose safety awareness on the Chinese side," Japanese government spokesman Nobutaka Machimura said at a regularly scheduled news conference on Thursday. "Now the problems have occurred, we urge China to closely investigate what exactly is going on."

‘Good progress’ claimed

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said, "The Chinese government always attaches great importance to food and product safety, and since last year we have made good progress in controlling the safety of exported food and products."

Liu told a regular news conference Thursday that production and exports from the enterprises suspected of making the dumplings had been stopped. He said the suspect dumplings were made under 13 brand names on Oct. 1 and under 14 brand names on Oct. 20.

Japanese health officials said they had suspended imports of all products from Tianyang and were conducting a nationwide survey of any additional dumpling-related health problems.

Japan's Health Ministry also ordered the dumplings' importer and distributor, JT Foods Co. Ltd. -- an affiliate of Japan's largest tobacco company -- to recall the tainted dumplings. JT Foods had distributed 13 tons of dumplings each in the prefectures (states) of Chiba and Hyogo, the ministry said.

The dumplings were contaminated with traces of an organic phosphorus insecticide called methamidophos, which caused severe abdominal pains, vomiting and diarrhea, Japanese officials said.

Girl regains consciousness

Three people in Hyogo and seven in Chiba, near Tokyo, were sickened, some of them seriously, including a 5-year-old girl who regained consciousness after falling into a coma, the ministry said.

Traces of methamidophos were found in the dumplings, their containers and in the patients' vomit, it said.

Japan in recent months has been hit with its own domestic food safety scandals involving recycled red bean filling, mislabeled meat and the use of outdated milk, cream and eggs in a popular brand of cream puffs.

In 2000, Snow Brand Milk Products Co. shipped out old milk and sickened more than 14,000 people in Japan's worst-ever outbreak of food poisoning.