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EDITORIAL | Deaths from Kobayashi Diet Aid: Gov't Must Take Over Probe

Kobayashi Pharmaceuticals only voluntarily recalled its product over 2 months after it learned lives were at stake. It had sold beni-koji to 52 other companies.



Three products of concern from Kobayashi Pharmaceutical (photo provided)

There have already been five deaths among consumers who took health supplements made by Kobayashi Pharmaceuticals. The company manufactures and markets drugs, sanitary supplies, and other products. The product in question had been touted as a dietary aid for weight reduction and improvement of physical functions. It contains beni-koji or red yeast rice malt. 

Reports indicate that one of the deceased had been taking the food supplement continuously since 2021, or around three years. 

Kobayashi Pharmaceutical President Akihiro Kobayashi and others bow their heads after a press conference regarding the red yeast issue. March 29 in Osaka (© Sankei by Satoshi Kadoi)

Company's Voluntary Recall

On March 22, the company initiated a voluntary recall of five products containing beni-koji. It cited the possibility of kidney damage as the reason. The city of Osaka, home of the company's head office, issued a recall order on March 27, based on the Food Sanitation Act. 

Above all, priority should be given to preventing any further harm. Kobayashi Pharmaceuticals must promptly and fully disclose all currently available information related to the issue and provide detailed explanations to consumers. 

Already, more than 100 individuals who took the supplement have been hospitalized. Among their symptoms are swelling and difficulty in urinating. Some patients have even had to undergo temporary dialysis. 

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi told a press conference: "This is a very serious matter. [And] it raises doubts about food products that make functional claims." 

Kobayashi Pharmaceutical's Manufacturing Head Kenji Yamashita bows to reporters during an interview after a subsidiary factory was inspected by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare on March 31. Kinokawa City, Wakayama Prefecture. (© Sankei by Kan Emori)

Inexcusable Delay

However, the biggest problem is the delayed response. The doctor who examined one of the patients contacted the company in January. The company admits that it concluded in February that it would have to conduct "some kind of recall." Yet it continued to drag its heels for another month and a half before finally issuing the voluntary recall. 

Voluntary recalls are intended to prevent further consumption of the food products at issue and curtail the health hazards. Kobayashi did not display the sense of urgency expected of a business handling food products. 

Only Openness Can Stop the Panic

The actual cause of the health damage has yet to be identified. Therefore, its link to the consumption of the supplements remains unclear. Nonetheless, an unidentified substance that was not supposed to be there during the production process has been detected in the products. Moreover, the company says it cannot deny a causal relationship between the health issues and those who consumed the supplements. 


It is necessary to urgently identify the agent that caused the problems and clarify the reason for and route of the contamination. 

Officials from the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare enter a Kobayashi Pharmaceutical subsidiary factory for inspection on March 31. Kinokawa City, Wakayama Prefecture (© Sankei by Kan Emori)

A Proper Investigation

The government should consider taking over the investigation to expedite the process.

Meanwhile, growing turmoil is roiling the markets. Kobayashi Pharmaceutical has revealed that it sold beni-koji as a food additive to 52 other companies. Manufacturers that received the supplies have initiated voluntary recalls.

The government has also been holding liaison meetings among relevant agencies. Furthermore, the Consumer Affairs Agency is conducting emergency inspections of over 6,000 food products making functional claims. Manufacturers and the government should work together to prevent a recurrence of this lamentable situation. 


(Read the editorial in Japanese)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun 

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