Farmer Wins Compensation After Gov

Farmer Wins Compensation After Government Blames Radish Sprouts for Food Poisoning
(Mainichi Daily News, Japan, Feb. 19, 2004)

OSAKA -- A court on Thursday awarded 6 million yen in damages to a farmer over the government's erroneous report that his products were the source of a mass food poisoning outbreak.

The compensation suit filed by Hajimu Minamino, 66, a farmer in Habikino, Osaka Prefecture, involved the government's announcement in 1996 after the O-157 bacteria hit some 9,500 local people, leaving three of them dead.

During a press conference in summer attended by Naoto Kan, health minister at the time, an expert said that the probability that the farm's radish sprouts were the source was "about 95 percent."

Minamino later sued the government and demanded 52.5 million yen in damages for his huge business losses caused by the announcement.

The Osaka High Court, upholding a lower court decision, ordered the government to pay him some 6 million yen.

"The government made an ungrounded announcement, even though it could not be denied at the time that other products, rather than the radish sprouts, might have been the source," Presiding Judge Akitaka Nakata said.

The Osaka District Court had said the announcement gave the impression that the radish sprouts were definitely the source, when it ordered the government to pay the compensation in the ruling made in March 2002.

The government appealed the district court's ruling.

"I believe Thursday's ruling will help us restore our lost reputation," said Yoshinori Minamino, the eldest son of the plaintiff and vice president of the Minamino farm. An official of the Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry said that officials were now discussing whether to appeal Thursday's ruling.

After the parents of one student who died in the food poisoning outbreak sued the Sakai Municipal Government in Osaka Prefecture, the district court's Sakai branch acknowledged in 1999 that food prepared at a local public school was the source and ordered the city to pay damages.

O-157 bacteria was never found on the Minamino farm, and experts have failed to locate the exact source of the poisoning.