June 26, 2008

Chinese Eels Falsely Labeled As Aichi Pref. Product

By The Yomiuri Shimbun

Jun. 25--TOKYO -- An Osaka-based eel trader has falsely labeled grilled eels of Chinese origin as being from Isshikicho, Aichi Prefecture, it has been learned.

The town is known as the nation's No. 1 producer of eels.

A Kobe-based seafood wholesaler, owned by Maruha Nichiro Holdings Inc., purchased the grilled eels from the trader and knowingly sold them to other companies despite the mislabeling.

The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry on Wednesday ordered the Osaka-based eel trader, Uohide, and the Kobe firm, Shinko Gyorui Ltd., to appropriately label their products.

Uohide imports 1,200 to 1,300 tons of eels per year from China.

According to the ministry, to avoid detection of the mislabeling, Uohide sold eels to Shinko Gyorui through several shell companies. The ministry concluded the act was an intentional violation of the law.

Between March and April, Uohide, which has a branch office in Tokushima, mislabeled grilled eels as originating in Isshikicho although in reality the eels were imported from China.

Uohide also mislabeled the grilled eels as being produced by Isshiki Food in Okazaki in the prefecture. At least 256 tons of the mislabeled grilled eels were sold through two Tokyo-based trading companies to Shinko Gyorui, which sold about 49 tons of them to other wholesalers in the western part of the country.

However, Isshiki Food is a shell company that exists in name only.

Uohide reportedly received cash payment from Shinko Gyorui for the transaction, avoiding the use of bank transfers, and covered up the action by omitting mention of the company's name in freight invoices.

Akihiro Nakatani, president of Uohide, told a press conference in Tokushima on Wednesday the company began mislabeling eel products in February.

The company has a large stock of eels imported from China. Consumers' heightened anxiety about Chinese-made foods pushed the company to disguise the eels' origins, according to Nakatani.

"I knew it was wrong," Nakatani said. "However, we began mislabeling the products because we wanted to reduce our stocks as soon as possible.

"Isshikicho is one of the [nation's] famous eel production areas, so I thought labeling the products as eels being from the town would help sales.

"I apologize for deepening people's distrust in food products."

Shinko Gyorui President Takashi Ohori also apologized to consumers during a press conference at his company's headquarters in Kobe.

Asked about whether Shinko Gyorui had been aware of the mislabeling by Uohide, Ohori said, "We just purchased products from a Tokyo company, introduced by Uohide."

However, the ministry said it discovered from its investigation Shinko Gyorui had been informed of Uohide's mislabeling.


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