Japan

Fukushima locals confident of produce as neighbours raise inspections

Four years later, not everyone is as confident as Fukushima residents

Eight out of 10 residents of Fukushima prefecture are comfortable buying local produce four years after the nuclear accident in 2011, according to a survey by local consumer groups.

Over the last year, this figure has grown by 10 percentage points, indicating growing confidence in the safety of food harvested in the prefecture, and easing concerns despite persistent rumours since the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No 1 nuclear plant.

When asked which local produce they most often purchased, some 78% said they bought goods harvested in the area, while just 8% said they only bought domestically harvested products that were not from Fukushima or neighbouring prefectures.

Of 1,045 responses, 43.9% said the reason they bought locally processed foods was because they believed the safe, 27.2% cited their taste and 16.7% said they were supporting local industry.

Strong government response

Immediately after the accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in March 2011, Japan’s government established provisional regulatory values, ramped up the monitoring of agricultural foods and materials, restricted the distribution of affected foods and helped decontaminate farm land. 

In April 2012, new Codex-equivalent limits were established for foods. This has since detected very low rates of unsafe foods—much lower than the anticipated 1% for agricultural products including cereals, vegetables and fruits, meat and milk, fish and fishery products and edible fungi. 

Estimations of effective dose exposure to radioactive caesium in foods have been decreasing constantly and now less than 1% of 1 mSv/year, inspectors have found.

Japan continues to make utmost efforts for prompt and accurate information sharing regarding this issue. Also, Japan intends to respond to this issue in close cooperation with the relevant international organisations,” the health ministry said in a statement.

This year, the Fukushima prefectural government is attempting to dispel rumours about local food by promoting the safety of its agricultural produce at a variety of events.

At present, people outside the prefecture and those overseas still [have concerns over the safety of foods in Fukushima],” one prefectural official was quoted in The Japan Times.

Export markets still concerned

This comes amid increasing action by countries that are still wary of imports from Japan. 

Last week, Taiwan imposed new restrictions on Japanese food after hundreds of products were recalled when labels were found that disguised the fact that the food came from areas affected by the Fukushima crisis.

Now, all food imports from Japan must now carry certificates to prove they are not from the five banned prefectures worst hit by the disaster, while some also need “radiation inspection certificates,” according to the Taiwan’s Ministry of Health and Welfare.

In Hong Kong, officials have been criticised for lax surveillance of food imports, with the possibility that contaminated food has been entering the city unnoticed for years because of deficiencies in safety controls on fresh produce.

In May, the South China Morning Post reported a report criticising surveillance at the Kwai Chung container terminal.

"We do not know if there is more banned food being sold in the city that has not been discovered by the government,” said Helena Wong Pik-wan, a Hong Kong politician.

Since March 2011, the city had stepped up surveillance of fresh produce imported from Japan such as milk, vegetables and fruits, which are subject to radiation checks. Importers must also provide relevant import documents showing the prefectures from where the food originated.

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