Chinese vegetable exports to Japan have plummeted in the wake of the Chinese poisoned frozen dumpling scandal, which sickened thousands in Japan at the start of this year.
Official figures show that imports of fresh Chinese vegetables for March slumped to 25,450 tonnes, down 45 per cent from the same month last year, and this volume was already 33 per cent down on the quantity imported during February 2008. Among the worst affected items were carrots, whose volumes were down 78 per cent in March on the same month last year, negi (Japanese leeks), which fell by 59 per cent year-on-year, taro (down 78 per cent) and onions (down 59 per cent).
Consumer confidence in Chinese vegetables, which was already fragile following scares over tainted spinach and other products in the past, appears to have been drained by the incident. The sharp drop in exports can also be attributed to tighter Chinese government export controls in the wake of this incident and other specific breaches of Japan's maximum residue limits (MRLs) on vegetables.
The disruption to supply and to market demand has caused major headaches for importers supplying Japan's food service industry, as this sector is reliant on lower cost sources. Importers have been scrambling to find alternative sources of vegetables, albeit at higher costs, according to Hiroaki 'Don' Okazoe, MD of importer IPM Nishimoto. "Prices have increased as importers have been forced to turn to countries like Korea, the US, Taiwan and even New Zealand and Australia for supply," he said.
China's exports of garlic and negi resumed in March and mid-April respectively, but Japanese importers note that market demand is at 50 per cent of former levels. "There is still good demand for Chinese products from the foodservice sector, but some shops are refusing to use any Chinese materials," Toshikazu Shoji of Royal told Fruitnet.