puff piece

Japanese Company Says It’s Developed Nonlethal Puffer Fish

To die for. Photo: Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images/2012 AFP

A Japanese aquaculture firm claims it’s removed the exciting Russian-roulette element from the thrill-seeking act of eating fugu, the Japanese delicacy people insist on consuming despite it containing a poison more toxic than cyanide. The Guardian reports a company called Manbou Corp., which runs fisheries in Japan’s Saga prefecture, is lobbying the government to relax the laws and let people eat puffer-fish liver again, boasting it’s developed a special farm-raised species whose organs are “non-poisonous.” Japan tightly controls what parts of the fish can be eaten, and under current law, the liver’s totally off-limits — fans rave it’s the richest, most delicate part, but, inconveniently, it’s also a huge storehouse of tetrodotoxin.

At least ten people in Japan have died from eating fugu in the last decade, and hundreds more have gotten seriously sick. Other farmers also claim to have reduced toxicity by controlling the fish’s diet, but the claims often strike many as dubious. Not very reassuringly either, only something like 35 percent of chefs who take Japan’s licensing test can pass the damn thing, but Manbou and officials in Saga want permission to open a restaurant that specializes in their ostensibly risk-free version, promising to still inspect the fish closely beforehand and only serve those “completely free of poison.” They argue any fears are misplaced — the method is “reasonable,” and it’s really unlikely “even a single accident” will occur. (With odds like those, who can say no?)

This new development could make consumers “mistakenly believe that pufferfish liver is safe to eat, resulting in more accidents.” Regardless, a panel of experts from Japan’s Food Safety Commission is mulling it over right now and will supposedly decide within the year.

Japanese Company Claims It Developed Nonlethal Puffer Fish