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Japan detects pesticide in frozen beans from China

October 15, 2008

TOKYO (AFP) Japan on Wednesday ordered retailers to pull frozen beans from China off the shelves after a woman fell ill eating a product which had 34,500 times the legal limit of pesticide, officials said.

Japan's health ministry instructed retailers and importers nationwide to suspend sales of frozen green beans from a Chinese supplier.

A ministry official said the woman felt numb in her mouth Sunday after eating a dish using the beans, which she had bought at a Tokyo supermarket.

She went to hospital and was released with no apparent health problems after an overnight check, he said.

The ministry ordered sales of the beans to be halted "until the cause of the incident becomes clear," the official said.

It is the latest health scare surrounding food from China, where four children died recently after consuming milk tainted with an industrial chemical.

The Tokyo metropolitan government conducted tests on the beans on Tuesday and found they had 34,500 times the pesticide residue level permitted by the Japanese government.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura said the government had informed the Chinese embassy in Tokyo of the case.

"It is too early to determine" whether the beans were contaminated in China, said Kawamura, the government's spokesman.

The importer, Tokyo-based Nichirei Foods, said it sourced the beans from a company called Yantai Beihai Foodstuff in eastern Shandong province.

"We conducted an inspection on a sample of the beans before importing them but did not detect pesticides," a Nichirei Foods spokesman said.

The beans were grown in Heilongjiang province in northeastern China where there was no record of any use of pesticides, the importer said.

The woman bought the frozen beans at a branch of the Ito-Yokado supermarket chain in Tokyo's middle-class Hachioji neighbourhood.

"We checked bags of the same product but didn't find any holes or any abnormalities," the manager of the supermarket told reporters in televised footage.

Food safety has turned into a major political issue in Japan, which imports 60 percent of its food -- the highest rate of any rich country.

Ten people suffered pesticide poisoning in December and January, and thousands of others reported feeling sick after eating frozen dumplings imported from China. One girl went into a coma before recovering.

Japan and China, who have been working to repair sometimes rocky relations, have held meetings in a bid to find the cause of the pesticide contamination.

China's image as a food producer has suffered in recent months because of a scandal over milk products tainted with the industrial chemical melamine.

Four Chinese children are known to have died and at least 53,000 made ill after consuming the melamine-laced milk, leading to import bans being imposed by countries around the world.

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