Public hearing in Taipei on Japanese food imports disrupted

A public hearing in Taipei on banned food imports from radiation-affected prefectures in Japan was disputed Sunday when the participants took issue with the presence of security guards at the venue.

The public hearing, the eighth in a series of 10, was held to improve people’s knowledge of the government’s control measures on imports of high risk food from Japan’s radiation-affected areas.

Unhappy with the presence of security guards at the venue at the Council of Agriculture building, some participants called for them to leave.

“Does the government want to confront the people by calling in security guards?” one participant asked.

Another participant argued that the hearings in fact were being held to pave the way for the government to lift the five-year ban on Japanese produce from the prefectures that were affected by radiation after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Meanwhile, Legislator Kao Chin Su-mei (高金素梅) of the Non-Partisan Solidarity Union went to the venue to support protesters against lifting the ban, saying that the 10 public hearings were invalid under the Law Governing the Exercise of Legislative Power.

Since Saturday, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government has been holding a series of public hearings around the country to discuss the ban on Japanese food products from radiation-affected prefectures but the opposition and several civic groups have been critical of the move.

A pro-nuclear group Nuclear MythBusters said the attempt to hold 10 public hearings in just three days was flawed.

The Trees Party, a minor political party in Taiwan, also questioned why the 10 public hearings were being squeezed into three days. According to the standard operating procedure for holding a public hearing, an announcement should be made seven days in advance, the party said.

It also expressed opposition to any attempt to lift the ban on food imports from the Japanese prefectures of Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma and Chiba, which has been in place since March 25, 2011 because of fears of radioactive contamination in those areas from a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

The nuclear disaster was triggered by a massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.

Since May 15, 2015, importers of Japanese food products have been required to present certificates to prove that their items did not originate from any of the five prefectures.

For some imports such as tea, baby food, dairy and aquatic products, radiation inspection certificates are also required.

Since President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) assumed office in May, various Japanese groups reportedly have been asking Taiwan to lift the ban. Tsai’s administration has indicated that it is keen to build stronger ties with Japan.

However, Hu Wen-chi (胡文琦), deputy chair of the opposition Kuomintang’s (KMT) Culture and Communications Committee, said Sunday that the protesters just wanted to express their opinions on the high risks of importing food from Japan’s radiation-affected areas.

It is unbelievable the DPP government has threatened legal action against the protesters, Hu said. According to media reports, underworld leaders had created disturbances at the public hearings in Yunlin and Kaohsiung on Saturday and the National Policy Agency has been gathering evidence to determine whether they had committed offenses against personal liberty and caused obstruction of public duty.

On Sunday, KMT caucus whip Chiang Chi-chen (江啟臣) said a public hearing in Taichung that day should be deemed as aborted due to protests led by KMT elected officials.

Chiang also said that if the government insisted on lifting the import ban, the party will raise a proposal to topple the Cabinet.

Amid speculation that KMT city and county councilors and pro-KMT mafia leaders were involved in the protests at the hearing in Tainan, Taipei, Yunlin, Kaohsiung and New Taipei on Saturday and Sunday, the DPP on Sunday called on KMT Chairwoman Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) to restrain her party members so rational discussions on the issue could resume.

Meanwhile, Lo Fu-chen (羅福全), Taiwan’s former top representative to Japan, said on Sunday that the key to determining whether to open imports of Japanese food lies in whether such products meet safety standards.

Cabinet spokesman Hsu Kuo-yung (徐國勇) said the 10 public hearings were being held in accordance with a resolution reached by the legislative Social Welfare and Environmental Hygiene Committee and it was regrettable that some of the hearings had been aborted.

The people should not be deprived of their right to information, he said.

The final two public hearings are scheduled for Taitung and Hualien on Monday, according to Hsu.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel

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