EU boosts food import controls after Japanese nuclear disaster

Mount Fiji in Japan

The European Union is to step up controls on food imports from Japan in the wake of the nuclear accident at Fukushima – but stressed there was no evidence that consumers in the region were at risk from radiation-contaminated food.

Under the move, expected to be adopted today, Japanese food and feed shipments will have to come with safety certificates and be subject to random testing at EU borders. An early warning system will also require importers to give competent authorities in the bloc two days notice of a consignment’s arrival.

The European Commission told FoodProductionDaily.com the measure was “a precautionary one” and that “currently, there is no evidence of risk for the EU consumer by increased radiation levels in food and feed products imported from Japan”.

The food safety threat was likely to be small as Japan is allowed to export just four products of animal origin into the region, added the Commission. These are fishery products; bivalve molluscs; casings and petfood. Europe also imports 9,000 tonnes of fruit and vegetables from Japan. The total value of food and feed imports from Japan in 2010 amounted to €205m.

Regulation

In the regulation, due to be published tomorrow, the EU said it had noted the contamination of foods like milk and spinach following the nuclear accident at the Daiichi plant on March 11.

“Such contamination may constitute a threat to public and animal health within the Union and it is therefore appropriate as a precautionary measure to urgently take measures at Union level to ensure the safety of the feed and food, including fish and fishery products, originating in or consigned from Japan,” said the ruling.

Member states yesterday backed the emergency proposal from the European Commission to reinforce checks on all food and animal feed originating in, or sent from, 12 prefectures of the stricken South East Asian country – including the four hardest hit by the catastrophic earthquake and subsequent tsunami earlier this month.

The regions covered by the regulation are Fukushima, Gunma, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Miyagi, Yamagata, Niigata, Nagano, Yamanashi, Saitama, Tokyo and Chiba.

The EU ruling insists that all products from these prefectures are tested before leaving Japan and said they will be subject to random testing in the bloc. Japanese authorities will have to provide a declaration confirming products do not contain radioactive elements - called radionuclides - that exceed EU maximum levels. The Commission highlighted radionuclides iodine-131, caesium-134 and caesium-137.

Food and feed products from the other 35 Japanese regions will also have to be accompanied by a declaration stating the prefecture of origin and will be randomly tested at EU borders.

Importers will be required to alert national competent authorities two days before the arrival of each consignment.

While food and feed products harvested or processed before March 11 are not affected by the ruling, they will still need to have a declaration stating they were harvested/ processed before the devastating natural disasters two weeks ago.

The measures will be reviewed every month, confirmed Brussels.

What will happen at EU border control?

When Japanese food products arrive at European inspection posts or designated points of entry, national officials will carry out document checks.

Physical checks, including laboratory analysis, will be carried out on at least 10 per cent shipments from the 12 target prefectures. Physical checks will be done on at least 20 per cent of those from the remaining 35 prefectures.

The EU said products would be quarantined for up to five working days and only be released when customs received the favourable results of tests from the importer. Products found to exceed the maximum permitted levels will b e refused market entry and either destroyed or returned to Japan.

Industry response

The Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries in the EU (CIAA) said it welcomed the move as “a measure to reassure EU citizens”.

It added: “The Commission makes clear that measures are related to Japan only and not to neighbouring countries at this stage. Japan accounts for a small percentage of EU food and drink imports, mainly of fruit and vegetables and fisheries products. There is confidence that appropriate testing is being carried out on Japanese food exports from the affected region and the legislation in place to deal with this.”

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