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Food from parts of Japan still banned

Publication Date : 28-04-2012


Singapore continues to ban food imports from eight Japanese prefectures more than a year after a tsunami and earthquake caused a nuclear disaster, even as Japan has placed stricter safety limits on foodstuffs sold.

But companies and restaurants in Singapore have found ways to cope with the ban, and are working with suppliers to source food from other parts of Japan.

For example, instead of Tokyo, one of the banned areas, they are buying tuna from Fukuoka, nearly 900km away.

They noted that while business dropped as much as 70 per cent a month after the quake, it has recovered relatively quickly.

"By about the third quarter of last year, our business was back to what it was in 2010 before the earthquake," said Ricky Ang, managing director of Kirei Japanese Food Supply. He has turned to the southern Japanese island of Kyushu for imports.

Last year, about 35,300 tonnes of food were imported from Japan, compared with 26,900 tonnes in 2010.

The March 11 earthquake and tsunami last year led to a radiation leak at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, which also affected nearby areas. Since then, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) has banned imports of milk and milk products, seafood, meat, fruits and vegetables from Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma prefectures. Imports of fruits and vegetables from Chiba, Kanagawa, Tokyo and Saitama prefectures are also not allowed.

The AVA said these areas are deemed high risk as they are near the affected area.

It could not say how long the suspensions will last but its spokesman said it is monitoring the situation closely. It continues to test samples of foods from other parts of Japan to ensure they are safe for consumption. To date, it has tested more than 7,500 samples.

In Japan, stricter safety limits have been placed on foodstuffs this month. However, these have not significantly affected the amount of food that can be sold.

The amount of radioactive caesium in food has been a source of concern for consumers following the radiation leak.

But during the past few weeks, only about 160 samples of farm and fish products were found to have exceeded the new safety limits, despite the fact that they are much lower than before.

These samples accounted for only about 3 per cent of all the samples of farm and fish products tested around the country, and were concentrated in the eight prefectures near the stricken reactors, according to Japan's Agriculture Ministry.

The new safety limit for caesium is 100 becquerels per kilo - one-fifth of the previous standard - for general food items such as fish, rice, meat and vegetables.

The ceiling for milk and baby food has been set even lower at only 50 becquerels, or one-quarter of the old limit. The limit for drinking water is now 10 becquerels, or one-twentieth of the old guideline.

In contrast to the confusion in the first few weeks after the nuclear reactor disaster last year - which in a few instances resulted in foodstuffs that exceeded government radiation limits being unknowingly sent to market - the situation in Japan has now returned to normal. All food in circulation in the country is presumed to have cleared the safety guidelines put out by the government. There have been no reports of unsafe food being sold or consumed.

Tokyo Metropolitan University radiation expert Hiroki Ohtani said consumers should be confident about the new safety limits, which take into account age, gender and the amounts of food consumed.

Still, consumers are wary.

"As a precaution, my wife still buys food sourced only from areas unaffected by the nuclear disaster and we buy seafood that comes from overseas," said Singaporean Ken Foo, 34, who works in Tokyo's finance industry. His sons, aged five and seven, drink only bottled water.

In Singapore, Ronnie Chia, owner and chef at Japanese restaurant Tatsuya, said that although diners have returned, he continues to display a notice informing them of the origins of his ingredients.

"I want to give my customers peace of mind. Once they trust you, they will be confident that your food is safe," he said.


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