Following the resignation of two high-ranking government ministers over the handling of the BSE crisis in Japan, four opposition parties called on Friday for the dismissal of Agriculture minister Tsutomu Takebe.

Takebe announced last week that the vice-minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, Hideaki Kumazawa, and Takemi Nagamura, head of the ministry’s Livestock Industry Department, have decided to stand down during the early part of this month over the highly criticised handling of the BSE outbreak.

By Friday, however, the secretaries general of the Democratic Party of Japan, the Liberal Party, the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party petitioned the Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, for the dismissal of Takebe.

Speaking at a meeting with Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kosei Ueno, they criticised Takebe for questioning the necessity of discovering the source of infection of the fatal brain wasting disease in Japan.

Koizumi later told reporters that the request would not be granted, however. He said: “I have told the minister that rather than quit, his responsibility is to make a responsible system and take all possible steps to provide safe food to the public.”