Japan Food Fears Prompt Import Curbs

SINGAPORE—More countries are stopping the import of food products from the Japanese provinces hit by the continuing nuclear crisis, but its impact on overall trade is expected to be negligible given Japan is only a niche exporter of food.

Acustomer shopped for produce Thursday in Tokyo. Several countries decided to stop the import of food products, including some vegetables.
According to Japan External Trade Organization, the country exported just $3.27 billion worth of food products in 2009, while the value of its food imports stood at $53.5 billion.

But fears of radiation-contaminated food may have an outsized impact on Japanese fresh food exporters even though contamination risk is currently restricted to the provinces of Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has banned imports of dairy products, some vegetables and fruit produced around Japan’s Fukushima prefecture, where radiation posed the biggest challenge to authorities seeking to limit damage.

The FDA hasn’t banned the import of Japanese seafood, which accounts for less than 2% of U.S. seafood consumption.

Singapore’s Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority suspended Thursday the import of milk and milk products, fruits and vegetables, seafood and meat from the four prefectures determined to be at contamination risk. The authority also said Singapore hasn’t imported any produce from the affected regions after the crisis hit. It is also testing all fresh produce imported from Japan.

The bi-national government agency Food Standards Australia New Zealand said a holding order had been issued for Australia as a precaution on all foods originating from the four prefectures. But the agency said it “remains of the view that the risk of Australian consumers being exposed to radionuclides in food imported from Japan is negligible.”

On Monday, South Korea expanded checks to include dried and processed foods imported from Japan. Thailand has also expanded the scope of its tests and asked traders to avoid importing fruits and vegetables from Japan’s Honshu island.

The renewed level of concern appears to be a result of a finding by Taiwan’s nuclear regulator of low levels of radiation on Japanese fava beans imported by Taiwan. Taiwan’s Atomic Energy Council said, however, that the level of radiation detected on the beans was within the safe range and that Taiwan would continue importing the product.

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