Taiwan may allow food imports from northeast Japan

Published on
March 23, 2016

Taiwan may soon lift a ban on food imports from five Japanese prefectures affected by radioactive fallout from the 11 March, 2011 Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant disaster. The ban affects Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma and Chiba prefectures.

Tsai Ming-yao, Secretary General of the Association of East Asian Relations, which handles relations with Japan in the absence of formal diplomatic relations, said last week that the country hopes to hold negotiations with Japan to resolve the issue. He noted that many countries already allow the imports.

The United States, Australia, the European Union, Singapore and Vietnam have all lifted or eased their Fukushima-related restrictions. Last year, Russia removed Aomori Prefecture from its list of banned prefectures following a favorable report from the International Atomic Energy Agency in September 2014.

The remarks come near the end of the term for President Ma Ying-jeou. Ma also recently thanked Japan for assistance following a major earthquake in southern Taiwan on 6 February, including plastic sheets and containers, and a donation of USD 1 million (EUR 887 million) to the Red Cross Society of Taiwan. Japan’s representative to Taiwan, Mikio Numata said that if the ban issue is not resolved during Ma’s term, Japan will take the issue up with President-elect Tsai Ing-wen, who assumes office on 20 May.

In addition to the ban on imports from the five prefectures, Taiwan also enacted regulations in May 2015 requiring labeling of Japanese food imports to show the prefecture of origin, after banned Japanese foods were found to have been illegally imported. It also subjects nine categories of food products, including fresh and frozen aquatic products and seaweed, from other parts of Japan to batch-by-batch border inspections.

Taiwan has previously hinted that it will allow imports of certain food products from Ibaraki, Gunma, Tochigi and Chiba prefectures, but will maintain a ban on products from Fukushima Prefecture. It is also likely to continue prefecture of origin labeling, which would help consumers discriminate against products from those prefectures even after their importation is resumed.

According to Japanese officials, all food products for export from these prefectures is tested, and 99.9 percent have proven safe. This could also be interpreted as meaning that one sample out of a thousand is unsafe, but the Japanese radiation limit has been set at just 100 Becquerels per kilogram, compared with the U.S. level of 1,200 Becquerels per kilogram.

The main items that are still occasionally found to exceed Japanese safety levels are wild vegetables, wild game, wild mushrooms, freshwater fish and bottom-dwelling ocean fish. Freshwater fish are affected more because radiation from the watershed is carried by runoff to streams. Bottom-feeding ocean fish like cod may occasionally feed at a hotspot of accumulated radioactive sediment.

Levels are lowest among invertebrates. Scallops were previously a significant export to Taiwan, and scallop exports would likely be one of the products to benefit most following a lifting of the ban.

Contributing Editor reporting from Osaka, Japan

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