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Thursday, 6 July, 2000, 14:56 GMT 15:56 UK
Japan dairy chief quits
The head of Japan's biggest dairy firm has resigned after more than 12,000 people fell ill from drinking contaminated milk.

About 160 people have needed hospital treatment after suffering symptoms including stomach pains, vomiting and diarrhoea.

The case is the country's worst outbreak of food poisoning for 30 years.

Local authorities ordered Snow Brand Milk Products to shut its Osaka plant in western Japan at the weekend when people began to fall ill after drinking the company's low-fat milk.

The cause of the outbreak was traced to bacteria in a valve in the milk production-line which had not been properly cleaned.

The AFP news agency quoted officials as saying the valve was clogged with residue after being left unwashed for three weeks.

Resignation

Snow Brand President Tetsuro Ishikawa said he would resign at the end of September.

Reports said 12,027 people had so far fallen sick. Nearly 30 are still in hospital.

"I think it would be the best for me to apologise and step down," Mr Ishikawa told a news conference.

"We had been overconfident about security control due to our long business experience. From now on... we will listen to outside opinions to transform ourselves into a new company."

The company also stopped part of its operation at its Hino plant in Tokyo on Thursday.

Local authorities ordered the shutdown after discovering there was no proper maintenance record for one of the milk storage tanks.

Shares

The food poisoning outbreak has already caused a sharp drop in Snow Brand's share price, while boosting the shares of its major rivals.

Reports said Snow Brand's shares touched 396 yen on Thursday, down 30.5% since 30 June.

Mr Ishikawa declined to estimate the cost of halting output or possible compensation, but added: "I don't think we will fall into the red."

Japan's biggest previous food poisoning case was in 1988 when 10,476 people fell sick because of salmonella-contaminated eggs.

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01 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Food poisoning outbreak in Japan
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