Japan's health ministry inspects plant over beni-koji health concern

Japan's health ministry and local officials have inspected a pharmaceutical factory that handles raw materials for dietary supplements containing the ingredient "beni-koji," or red yeast rice. The supplements are apparently linked to kidney diseases and other health damage.

The factory is operated by a subsidiary of Kobayashi Pharmaceutical in Wakayama Prefecture, western Japan.

A team of 17 health ministry and Wakayama Prefectural officials arrived at the plant on Sunday morning for an inspection in accordance with the Food Sanitation Act.

The plant, in Kinokawa City, inherited the manufacturing equipment from Kobayashi pharma's aging plant in Osaka City after it was shut down last December.

Spokesperson of Kobayashi Pharmaceutical Tomiyama Yuko on Sunday told reporters that the company will fully cooperate with the authorities during the on-site inspection.

On Saturday, health ministry and Osaka City officials inspected the Osaka plant where Kobayashi pharma has identified a substance known as puberulic acid in samples that were produced between April and October last year. A direct link between the substance, often generated from blue mold, and health damage is not clear yet.

The drugmaker says as of Friday, five people had died and 114 others were hospitalized after using the company's beni-koji supplements. Those affected are said to have developed kidney and other health problems. About 680 customers have either seen a doctor due to health issues or wish to do so.