Botched barley batch probed by Japanese and Australian officials as food firms issue recalls

By Lester Wan contact

- Last updated on GMT

The Japanese government has banned part of the imported barley, though almost half of the shipment has been used in the manufacturing of food products. ©GettyImages
The Japanese government has banned part of the imported barley, though almost half of the shipment has been used in the manufacturing of food products. ©GettyImages
Japanese and Australian officials say they are continuing to probe how imports of barley from Australia contained an exceedingly high amount of “sterilising agent”.

The findings were brought to light just a few days ago, even though reports say that the shipment took place in August last year.

The Japanese government has since banned part of the imported barley, although almost half of the 85-tonne shipment has already been used in the manufacturing of food products, and a significant proportion of which is likely to have been eaten.

The amount of the chemical Azoxystrobin detected in the shipment of Australian barley from ITOCHU Corporation (and supplied to Nishida Barley Processing Co. Ltd.) was 2.5mg/kg — five times above the standard value of 0.5mg/kg under Japan’s Food Sanitation Act.

Australia’s federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources has recently come to know about the case through a statement released by their Japanese counterparts at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF).

Not hazardous?

According to ITOCHU, the amount of Azoxystrobin found, while excessive, does not pose a danger to health. This was confirmed by the MAFF.

MAFF assured the public that Azoxystrobin is not carcinogenic, genotoxic or acute toxic according to findings. Considering the concentration found in the analysis, it said that even with the intake of these contaminated barley or processed barley products every day, there would be no fear of adverse health effects from it.

Nevertheless, according to ABC News​, some Japanese manufacturers have begun recalling their food products from the market. Nissin Cisco reportedly recalled 315,000 cereal products while Japan Luna recalled 132,000 yoghurt bowls.

Follow-up measures

ITOCHU expressed its apologies for the “considerable concern and inconvenience”​ it has caused consumers and business partners.

“Moving forward, ITOCHU will work with customers and its other business partners to ascertain the situation regarding the affected barley and any products processed with the barley,” said the company.

“We will also take appropriate action in accordance with law upon consultation with the relevant health departments, work to investigate the cause of this incident and prevent a repeat occurrence, and will make utmost efforts to further reinforce our food safety management systems.”

According to MAFF, there is a possibility that this was caused by ITOCHU’s cleaning of the barley before shipping it to the local seed company, but investigations are still ongoing.

MAFF has undertaken several measures including having suspended ITOCHU’s grain import business, and is undertaking its own analysis on Azoxystrobin for other shipments of Australian imported barley as a precaution.

MAFF has given ITOCHU until April 27 to report its findings.

According to the Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre (AEGIC), on average, Australia produces about 9.54m metric tonnes of barley a year. Japan is one of the major markets for Australian barley, importing, on average, about 638,000 tonnes per year, worth AU$187m.

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