Anger Over EU Import Ban On Bonito Flakes Over Carcinogen Issue

Bonito flakes (katsuobushi) for sale in Japan

Bonito flakes (katsuobushi) for sale in Japan

Preparations for the Japan Pavilion at the upcoming Expo 2015 in Milan, Italy have drawn attention to EU food regulations that prevent a number of Japanese food items from being imported into the exposition site in Italy. Most notably, the chefs at the Japan Pavilion (as well as Japanese restaurants throughout Europe) do not have access to katsuobushi (also known as bonito flakes), which is a key ingredient in the cooking stock that is used in many of Japanese cuisine’s umami dishes.

The Japanese government is petitioning for an exception to the ban for the special case of the Expo, but the controversy has raised the greater issue of the reason this ingredient has been banned in the first place. Many Japanese netizens were surprised to hear that bonito flakes may contain carcinogenic substances, while others were simply offended that the EU is being so fussy with their food regulations.

From Yahoo! Japan:

Are Bonito Flakes Poisonous? The Reason EU Won’t Approve Importation

At the Universal Exposition to be held in Milan, Italy this coming March, the topic is “food.”

Japan would also like to make use of this opportunity to raise greater awareness of washoku (Japanese cuisine), which has been named a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.

However, it seems that much of the domestically produced seafood and livestock that are used as ingredients by the restaurants in the Japan Pavilion are affected by the EU’s safety regulations for food products, and won’t be able to be brought in to the Expo. The affected foods include blowfish, which is considered to be a poisonous fish, as well as types of Japanese meat which are specifically regulated (excluding beef), dairy products, and even bonito flakes.

The bonito flakes will pose a particular problem. At the Milan Expo, which is such a perfect opportunity to spread the charm of washoku, the bonito flakes will be necessary to make Japanese soup stock, which is absolutely essential to the flavor of Japanese cuisine.

So, why is the importation of bonito flakes blocked?

The fact is, the manufacturing process used to smoke the fillet of bonito produces small amounts of tar and charred bits that adhere to the fish, and the carcinogenic chemical benzopyrene is formed as a result. The problem is that this chemical content exceeds the standards set by the EU. Additionally, because mold is used in the process of drying and curing the high-grade honkarebushi, it seems a danger of mold poisoning has also been identified.

As a result, Japanese restaurants in Europe can’t easily use bonito flakes produced in Japan, and in actuality they end up relying heavily on MSG. However, that isn’t the true flavor of Japanese cuisine.

…When you see this news, how do you feel about it?

Some people honestly think, “Bonito flakes were dangerous all along!” Some think the EU is outrageous for viewing such a traditional ingredient of Japanese cuisine as dangerous. There might even be people who read between the lines and think, “Is this the conspiracy of a secret society trying to shut out Japanese cuisine in Europe?” (Haha.)

Needless to say, the bonito flakes themselves are made from natural ingredients. The mold used for fermentation, the wood used to produce the smoke, and of course the bonito are all natural. There are probably some people who think that if something is natural then it must be safe, but in truth there are a surprising number of cases where dangerous materials are formed in the natural world. In the case of poisonous snakes or poisonous mushrooms, the living thing itself produces the poison. And with organic vegetables, there is research coming out that shows that the vegetables themselves naturally produce pesticide-like substances. It seems they use those substances to drive away the insects that eat them.

This is all to say, are bonito flakes really dangerous or not? Essentially, we should be able to decide logically by thinking about the balance between toxicity and absorption rate, but…

The Japanese government is appealing to the EU to allow the importation of just the amount that will be used at the Expo. After explaining that there is no problem in terms of safety and promising not to display or offer it outside of the Expo grounds, they are hoping that the EU will allow the importation of Japanese ingredients such as bonito flakes as a special case for the Expo.

However, this situation is still pretty strange. While the Japanese government is saying that the food is safe, they aren’t necessarily insisting on the repeal of the regulation itself.

Incidentally, plans to build a bonito flake factory this summer in Concarneau, along France’s Atlantic coast in the Brittany region, are progressing. The factory will be built with investments from organizations such as the Makurazaki Processed Marine Products Industry Cooperative in Makurazaki, Kagoshima. They will get the bonito from the Indian Ocean, and production of the bonito flakes will also take place under technical leadership from Japan.

In other words, civilians have grown impatient with the government’s weak policies, and have decided to advance into overseas markets. To some extent, one might also call this a further hollowing out of Japanese industry. Will all of the basic ingredients for Japanese cuisine eventually be produced abroad?

by Tanaka Atsuo

Comments from


Isn’t this a non-tariff barrier?


So they’ve been making us eat poison?


But moldy cheese is ok?


But it’s not a problem for them when blue cheese grows mold. I don’t get this at all.


Fucking foreigners who don’t know anything, they’ll probably like MSG better than mysterious stuff with mold and charred parts on it.


Yeah, it’s definitely out based on the food product standards over there.


Even though you assholes eat blue cheese without any concern, you’re worried about mold?


Italy is abnormally conservative and fussy about its food.


A bunch of savages who don’t pay any respect at all to other cultures.


These jerks are all sensitive about stuff, like cheese is fine but natto is disgusting and smelly, I totally don’t get it.


Damn foreigners don’t understand UMAMI anyways, so it’s fine.


Japanese food is more healthy anyways, you tomato bastards


If you’re gonna say stuff like that, try surpassing Japan in average lifespan!


But wait a minute, this is the first Japanese people have heard of this either…

垂直落下式DDT(dion軍)@\(^o^)/ [in response to above]:

You’ve never heard that charred things are carcinogenic…? Benzopyrene is just a representative of that concept.


“Benzopyrene is a substance that is formed when carbohydrates, proteins or fats undergo incomplete combustion during the cooking or manufacturing process, at high temperatures of approximately 350-400 degrees.”
Man, everything is a carcinogen these days.


I guess smoked daikon is probably bad now too. But whiskey, which stinks of peat, is still fine, huh? www


To make peat they smoke malt and scorch the cask and stuff, so whiskey must also contain carcinogenic substances too, right? Well, but if you worry about it that much than alcohol is bad to begin with, isn’t it?


At these assholes’ level of taste it would be a waste to use bonito flakes in the first place. w


Well, the udon shops and the idiots selling donburi over there just dump MSG in everything w
That pseudo-Japanese food doesn’t have anything to do with Japan.

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