The latest food scandal that has caught Mikasa Food buying methamidophos-tainted Chinese rice—shades of the poisoned-Chinese dumplings—for pennies to the kilo claiming that it would be used to produce glue, then passing it off at much higher prices to rice cracker, shochu and miso manufacturers. This is significant for two reasons:
In all the other food scandals, the culprits either tried to pass off cheap, generic items as more expensive, branded products or relabeled or reprocessed products that had passed their consume-by date. None of the fakes appear to have been detected by consumers and none of them caused health problems—Japanese consume-by dates are notoriously early. That had been the crucial distinction between the Japanese-origin cases and the Chinese dumplings (and the Chinese eels…). Not so this time around. The rice may be of Chinese origin, but a Japanese business has been caught systematically prepetrating fraud with possible (if not likely) health implications.
More important from a political point of view, an Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry official reportedly introduced an importer with tainted rice on its hands to Mikasa as a potential dump. The MAFF official must have meant no harm, but his involvement opens the door to Diet inquiries that call into question MAFF involvement in a private transaction that has resulted in a health threat. The ruling coalition will do its best to blame it on the bureaucracy, but that will only open the door to accusations that the LDP has spent the last 53 years sleeping on the job. Deliciously for the DPJ, it can summon the already controversial MAFF Minister Oota for further Diet grilling and embarrassment to feed a news-hungry media before a new Prime Minister can sack him as part of selecting a new Cabinet for himself.
A couple more incidents like that will do wonders for the DPJ’s lower house election prospects.