Cabinet to detail position on Japanese food after public hearings

Premier Lin Chuan (林全) said Friday that the government would detail its views on whether to lift the ban on food products from radiation-affected prefectures in Japan after the conclusion of new public hearings on the matter.

He said the public hearings are absolutely not for show and it is perfectly possible that the ban on food imports will remain in place, adding that the government will only present its views and policy options after the hearings conclude.

Lin acknowledged that there remain grave public misgivings about lifting the ban on food products from radiation-affected areas of Japan and said that if these cannot be allayed, the government will not lift the ban.

The premier said that it is only meaningful to talk about allowing food imports after rebuilding public trust in the government’s ability to manage food safety.

Lin made the remarks after a Cabinet spokesman said earlier that plans to allow imports of the controversial food products have been put on hold.

Lin said that at previous public hearings, “political factors made it impossible to discuss the issues rationally.”

The new hearings will be presided over by civic groups and foster rational debate in the hope of establishing a model for future hearings, Lin added.

The Cabinet held 10 public hearings on the safety of Japanese food products around Taiwan from Nov. 12-14, after deciding to hold the hearings on Nov. 10. However, critics claimed this was a tactic to assuage public anger while paving the way for the lifting of the ban and several ended in chaos and acrimony.

Meanwhile, Deputy Health and Welfare Minister Ho Chi-kung (何啟功) said the government is managing Japanese food on three fronts: sources, borders and markets.

On the source front, Taiwan will ask the Japanese authorities to help track problematic food products, Ho said, citing the recent example of Japanese natto being found to have come from Ibaraki, a radiation-affected Japanese prefecture from which food exports are banned in Taiwan.

Taiwan banned food imports from Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma and Chiba prefectures in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant meltdown following a massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan on March 11, 2011.

In the wake of reports that the government is planning to lift the ban on food imports from radiation-affected prefectures other than Fukushima, several brands of Japanese natto containing packets of soy sauce from Chiba and Ibaraki have recently been found in Taiwan.

As a result, the ministry launched an inspection of food labeling from Japan on Dec. 12 and as of Dec. 15 had examined 6,486 products. A total of 37 found to violate regulations or reported by companies themselves were sent for tests. Currently, 12 have shown no traces of radiation and the remaining 24 are still being tested.

Sheu Fuu (許輔), director general of Food Safety Office under the Executive Yuan, said that no country has banned imports of wine and liquor from the five radiation-affected prefectures in Japan.

From 2011 to November this year, Taiwan tested 2,477 batches of liquor from the five prefectures and no traces of radiation were detected, he said.

Legislator Wang Yu-min (王育敏), a caucus whip from the opposition Kuomintang, asked if the delay in lifting the ban was intended to deflect mounting pressure from opponents to the measure.

“If that is the case, Taiwanese people will not accept it,” Wang said.

Lawmaker Liu Shih-fang (劉世芳 ) of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party said the government should detail its reasons for lifting the ban more clearly.

However, she also said that if misinformation has caused public panic, the policy should be put on hold until consensus on the issue is reached.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel

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