False labeling of foreign clams a serious fraud against consumers

It is astonishing that the betrayal of consumers by disguising production areas was conducted on such a large scale. There is a need to get to the bottom of the situation surrounding this wrongdoing and take effective measures against it.

It turned out that most of the asari clams that were being distributed in Japan as “Kumamoto-grown” were clams of foreign origin that were purchased from China and South Korea.

According to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, about 80% of the clams sold between October and December last year were labeled as “Kumamoto-grown.” But the total amount thus sold was more than 100 times the annual catch of clams in Kumamoto Prefecture.

There is no end to the falsification of production areas for foods such as eels and beef, but it must be said that the scale of falsification of production areas for clams is extraordinary. It is only natural that Kumamoto Gov. Ikuo Kabashima expressed a sense of urgency, saying, “It has reached a point beyond our imagination.”

The distribution process of clams involves various fisheries companies at each stage of import, wholesaling and retailing. One trader said, “Everyone in the industry knows that clams not grown in Kumamoto are on the market.”

Who took the initiative in the disguising of production areas, and to what extent were they involved in the subsequent cases? The agriculture ministry, in close cooperation with the prefectural government and police, should clarify the actual situation of the irregularities and take strict measures.

According to standards based on the Food Labeling Law, if clams are grown in two or more places, the place where they spent more time should be the place of origin stated on the label.

It is said that there has been rampant abuse of this system, and that when imported clams are briefly kept on tidal flats or elsewhere in Kumamoto, documents are rewritten to show their period of growth in Kumamoto as longer than their period of growth overseas.

There also were many cases in which clams that had not passed through Kumamoto Prefecture at all were shipped as “Kumamoto-grown” on paper. This is clearly illegal.

Kumamoto Prefecture used to be a major clam producing area, accounting for 40% of domestic production. The act of taking advantage of the power of its brand is malicious and extremely lacking in morals.

In response to this problem, the prefectural government has suspended shipments of clams. Since the falsification was brought to light, the impact has been spreading, such as a large number of Kumamoto-grown hamaguri clams being returned to their production sites. This must be annoying to the vendors who have been diligently following the rules.

The Kumamoto prefectural government has called on the central government to review labeling for places of origin and to introduce a history management system for tracking production areas from initial catch to sales. It is essential to create a system to detect false labeling.

If rumors spread that Japan’s food labeling is not trustworthy, it could affect the expansion of agricultural exports, which the government is focusing on, as well as consumption by foreign visitors to Japan, which is expected to resume after the novel coronavirus pandemic is brought under control.

Efforts must be made to quickly prevent a recurrence and regain lost trust.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Feb. 18, 2022.