Growing concerns over radiation cause several countries to ban or impose restrictions on the import of Japanese products, with Hong Kong, one of Japan's key food export markets, becoming the first.
Several countries ban the import of Japanese products amid growing scares of food radiation
More countries have joined the list of nations shunning Japanese food imports on Thursday amid growing scares of radiation in food. The ban applies to dairy products, fruit and vegetables from five prefectures near the Fukushima No 1. nuclear plant, hit by the powerful quake and tsunami on March 11, followed by a series of explosions and fires.
In Hong Kong, one of Japan's key food export markets, shoppers and diners have been deserting Japanese produce en masse hitting hard the sushi outlets and shops there. "For sure I will avoid buying Japanese products - like vegetables, mushrooms and fish," Jane Shum, a retiree in her 50s told AFP. "Businesses here are affected a great deal. No one is buying Japanese products."
Radiation levels in spinach and milk from farms near Fukushima exceed safety limits
Shoppers were showing little interest, even though Japanese chains APITA and Jusco, as well as Japanese restaurants in the city were giving hefty discounts on fruits and vegetables imported before the ban came into effect. Housewife Irene Wong says she would avoid any Japanese food. "I am definitely choosing food products from places other than Japan," says the 65-year-old.
The city's Food and Environmental Hygiene Department ordered the ban Wednesday after vegetable samples from Japan showed traces of radioactive iodine as much as 10 times above recommended levels. Meat, poultry and seafood will also be banned unless first given safety clearance from Japanese officials, the Hong Kong government has said.
Restrictions in other nations
Besides Hong Kong, the United States, Canada and Australia are among leading markets to ban certain Japanese food imports, including seaweed and seafood, milk, dairy products, fresh fruit and vegetables. France has also urged the European Union to introduce "systematic controls" on Japanese food, while South Korea is considering banning food shipments from areas near the quake-damaged plant.
The usually packed Japanese restaurants in China are now seeing less customers
Russia has banned imports from four Japanese regions - Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma - amid concerns about radiation from the damaged nuclear plant. The country’s consumer protection agency head Gennady Onishchenko was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying: "We have given orders to fully ban the use of food products which have been brought into Russia after March 11," adding that foods from these four provinces would now be stopped at the border even without radiation checks.
Singapore has also suspended imports of milk products and other food items from the same four prefectures. Thailand is testing all fruit and vegetable imports from Japan for possible radiation contamination, Pipat Yingsaree, secretary-general of Thailand's Food and Drug Administration told the Reuters.
China and Malaysia are also testing all consignments from Japan. Taiwan's Fisheries Agency has advised local boats not to fish in Japanese waters after radiation was detected in the sea around the Fukushima nuclear plant. The agency will check all catches on fishing boats returning from Japanese waters and destroy any catches with radioactivity exceeding permitted limits.
Food safety - an additional dimension of the emergency
Japan's government has also halted shipments of untreated milk and vegetables from Fukushima and three adjoining prefectures, and stepped up radiation monitoring at another six, covering areas bordering Tokyo.
Japanese shops and sushi bars have been the hardest hit in many countries
A joint statement issued in Geneva by three UN agencies reads: "Food safety issues are an additional dimension of the emergency," pledging they are "committed to mobilizing their knowledge and expertise" to help Japan.
"Food monitoring is being implemented, measurements of radioactivity in food are taking place, and the results are being communicated publicly," say reports the International Atomic Energy Agency, World Health Organization, and Food and Agriculture Organization.
At the Fukushima site, three workers were exposed to at least 170 millisieverts when they stepped into a puddle of water that reached the skin on their legs despite their radiation suits.
Sherpem Sherpa (AFP/AP/Reuters)
Editor: Sarah Berning