World

Japanese health officials raid factory producing ‘deadly’ supplements

Five people have died and 114 people are being treated in hospitals after taking the products.

Japan’s health ministry officials walk towards the Osaka plant of Kobayashi Pharmaceutical (Yohei Fukai/AP)
Japan Drug Supplement Recall Japan’s health ministry officials walk towards the Osaka plant of Kobayashi Pharmaceutical (Yohei Fukai/AP) (Yohei Fukai/AP)

Japanese government officials have raided a factory producing health supplements that they say have killed at least five people and left more than 100 others in hospital.

About a dozen people wearing dark suits walked into the Osaka plant of Kobayashi Pharmaceutical in the raid shown widely on Japanese TV news, including public broadcaster NHK.

The company says little is known about the exact cause of the sickness, which includes kidney failure. An investigation into the products is under way in cooperation with government health authorities.

The raid was broadcast live on TV (Yohei Fukai/Kyodo News via AP)
Japan Drug Supplement Recall The raid was broadcast live on TV (Yohei Fukai/Kyodo News via AP) (Yohei Fukai/AP)

The supplements all used “benikoji”, a kind of red mould. Kobayashi Pharmaceuticals’ pink pills called Benikoji Choleste Help were billed as helping lower cholesterol levels.

Kobayashi Pharmaceutical, based in the western Japanese city of Osaka, said about a million packages were sold over the past three financial years.

It also sold benikoji to other manufacturers and some products have been exported. The supplements could be bought at pharmacies without a prescription from a doctor.

Reports of health problems surfaced in 2023 although benikoji has been used in various products for years.

Company president Akihiro Kobayashi has apologised for not acting sooner. The recall came on March 22, two months after the company had received official medical reports about the problem.

Akihiro Kobayashi has apologised for not acting sonner (Yohei Fukuyama/Kyodo News via AP)
Japan Drug Supplement Recall Akihiro Kobayashi has apologised for not acting sonner (Yohei Fukuyama/Kyodo News via AP) (Yohei Fukuyama/AP)

On Friday, the company said five people had died and 114 people were being treated in hospitals after taking the products.

Japan’s health ministry said the supplements are responsible for the deaths and illnesses, and warned that the number of those affected could grow.

Some analysts blame recent deregulation initiatives, which simplified and sped up approval for health products to spur economic growth. But deaths from a mass-produced item are rare in Japan, as government checks over consumer products are relatively stringent.

The government has ordered a review of the approval system in response to the supplement-related illnesses. A report is due in May.