No timetable for easing ban on Japanese food imports: Cabinet

As the controversy surrounding the easing of a ban on food imports from five radiation-affected prefectures in Japan escalates, the head of the Executive Yuan’s Office of Food Safety Hsu Fu (許輔) said Monday that there is no timetable for lifting the ban.

The Cabinet held 10 public hearings on the issue between Nov. 12 and Nov. 14 in cities and counties across Taiwan that erupted into chaos due to protests and clashes as protesters voiced their concern that Japanese food that might be contaminated with radioactive substances might be allowed into Taiwan.

Some suspected that the government was holding the public hearings simply for lip service, to pave the way for a lifting of the five-year ban on produce from the prefectures that were affected by radiation after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Food imports from the Japanese prefectures of Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma and Chiba have been suspended in Taiwan since March 25, 2011 because of fear of radioactive contamination in those areas resulting from a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

The Cabinet said that the government plans to reopen imports of banned Japanese food in two phases. In the initial phase, it will open to imports from the four prefectures other than Fukushima by imposing strict controls on high-risk goods and performing batch-by-batch inspections to prevent any imports of radioactive products from the four prefectures.

In addition, high-risk products from certain areas will have to be accompanied by a Japanese government-issued certificate of origin and must carry radiation inspection certificates, according to the Cabinet.

Hu said that Taiwan’s food safety standards are on par with the United States, the European Union and Japan, and that consumers can therefore rest assured.

Asked when the ban will be lifted, Hsu said that “as far as I know, there is no timetable for that,” adding that after the 10 public hearings are concluded, an inter-ministerial meeting will be convened to discuss the next step.

In related news, Green Consumers’ Foundation Chairman Jay Fang (方儉) accused the Ministry of Health and Welfare of falsifying information in a report released during the public hearings about an inspection trip to Japan by representatives from various government agencies.

The report was misleading in that it said only Taiwan and China impose a full ban on imports of Japanese food from the five radiation-affected prefectures. In fact, the United States issued a directive in October stipulating that certain specific products from 14 Japanese prefectures, including Fukushima, should be confiscated pending inspections, according to Fang.

Fang also dismissed a part of the report that described Taiwan’s food safety standards as being on par with other countries as untrue, saying that in fact, Taiwan’s standards are more lax.

In response, the ministry said that Fang misinterpreted the figures cited to explain Taiwan’s food safety standards.

Meanwhile, ruling Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Lin Shu-fen (林淑芬), co-convener of the Social Welfare and Environmental Hygiene Committee, said that Taiwan is not properly prepared for a lifting of the ban.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel

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