Agencies Wary of Japanese Agricultural Imports

SAFE TO EAT: A staff member works next to a sign (L) informing customers that the seafood contained in the sushi and sashimi for sale is not of Japanese origin, at a supermarket in Hong Kong on March 19. Many governments are restricting Japanese food imports as Japan continues to battle nuclear and radiation issues following the March 11 earthquake and subsequent tsunami. (Antony Dickson/Getty Images )
Radiation has been detected in Japanese imports in recent days, prompting countries such as Singapore, the United States, Australia, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Russia to be on the alert for screening produce from the affected region.

Certain imported food from Japan has been halted—the contaminated foods including milk products and meats are banned in Singapore from the area around the problematic nuclear reactor plant in Fukushima Daiichi. Hong Kong has also blocked agricultural foodstuffs from Japan.

Hong Kong Director of Food & Environmental Hygiene Clement Leung and Undersecretary for Food & Health professor Gabriel Leung said the ban was ordered after a turnip, a white radish, and a spinach sample arriving in twoconsignments from Japan on March 23 were confirmed to have been contaminated by iodine-131 up to 10 times the international legal level.

Australia's regulator Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) stated on its website that there are food import restrictions that are a "precautionary measure, and consistent with approaches internationally."

According to the European Commission, emergency tests have been prepared and "the measures apply to all feed and food [originating in or consigned from areas] most affected by the accident" at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, based on a statement.

The value of Japanese imports to the EU in terms of agricultural produce is worth around 200 million euros (US$281 million) in 2010.

Since the recent largest earthquake on record hit Japan with a magnitude of 9 on the Richter scale, higher than normal levels of radiation have been measured in various vegetables, and milk, and including water even in Tokyo, which is 145 miles south of Fukushima. Currently, Japan is the world’s third largest importer of food and far outweighs its exports. Japan sources of food predominantly come from the United States, China, Australia, and Thailand. 

Although the United States was the first country to stop imports from the radiation zone from Japan on Wednesday March 24, based on World Bank research around 1 percent of Japanese exports is made up of food. Therefore, some have argued that the impact on other countries would be minimal. For instance, Japan is the world’s largest importer of U.S. corn. 

The greatest issue in terms of food consumption is the lack of drinking water. Tokyo authorities confirmed that 240,000 bottles of water would be dispatched to 80,000 families because of radiation detected in the tap water with double the iodine levels that is safe for infants. 

Despite water being safe to consume for adults, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano has indicated that officials are evaluating the possibility of importing bottled from overseas to meet the escalating demand. Buying restrictions are being imposed in various supermarkets due to panic buying.