TOKYO - Ten people have fallen ill in Japan with a girl in a serious condition after eating dumplings from China that contained insecticide, police said Wednesday, warning they could press criminal charges.
The scare was breaking news shortly before dinner time in Japan, with national television broadcasting a live press conference in which distributor JT Foods said it was recalling the dumplings.
"We pray for the early recovery of those whose health was affected," said Mutsuo Iwai, an executive at cigarette giant Japan Tobacco, of which JT Foods is a subsidiary. "We sincerely apologise for the trouble."
Ten people, including a mother and her four children, fell ill in Chiba prefecture near Tokyo and western Hyogo prefecture after eating "gyoza" dumplings, local police officials said.
At least five of them were still in hospital after suffering vomiting, stomach aches or diarrhoea, the officials said. A five-year-old girl was reported to be in a serious condition.
"We are looking to see whether this constitutes a criminal case," a police official in Chiba prefecture told AFP.
"I think the investigation will focus on professional negligence," he said on customary condition of anonymity.
Chinese-made products, ranging from seafood to car tyres and toys, were at the centre of a series of global safety scandals and recalls last year.
Japan is heavily reliant on food imports and counts China as its second largest supplier after the United States.
But a number of Japanese companies have also come under fire in recent months over food safety, mostly false labelling of expired products, in cases that had no link to China.
The gyoza, which historically originated in China but is one of Japan's most popular foods, is a steamed dumpling, generally with ground meat inside.
JT Foods said an insecticide called methamidophos was found in the dumplings.
The frozen gyoza packages were manufactured at a factory of Tianyang Food Plant based in China's northeastern Hebei province that produces 23 different products for JT Foods, the company said.
"We are examining at what point (the chemical) was included. To be thorough in our safety measures, we are making a voluntary recall of all the products made at the factory," he said.
"Please do not eat any of the products and please send them to us," he said.
Hiroyuki Uchimi, an official at the health ministry's office for food import safety, also said the government instructed an end to imports of the product.
"It is not yet certain if these cases have been caused by a residual agricultural chemical or an accidentally or intentionally added insecticide.
"But it is unlikely that an ordinary residual agricultural chemical would cause poisoning on this scale," he said.
He added that the same chemical was found on the gyoza package's wrapping.
- AFP /ls