Seven years post-tsunami, Fukushima struggles with food safety stigma

It’s been seven years since a horrifyingly powerful tsunami hit the eastern coast of Japan, taking out a nuclear reactor in the prefecture of Fukushima. Nearby farms were immediately contaminated by radiation, leading 55 countries worldwide to block imports of seafood, produce and other food items from the region.

Now, after years of recovery and clean-up efforts, the prefectures surrounding Fukushima are taking steps to restore trust in overseas markets. This month, Japanese foreign minister Taro Kono visited Hong Kong with a specific goal in mind: to lobby chief executive Carrie Lam to lift Hong Kong’s current ban on Fukushima-area shipments.

The visit did not ultimately lead to a lifting of the ban, with Lam citing concerns about food safety and public health. South Korea also recently announced it wouldn’t lift its ban on all imports from northeast Japan, a decision it is currently trying to defend from a World Trade Organization ruling that opposes the country’s ban.

Is the food safe?

It’s been since 2015 since radiation was detected during food safety checks in rice fields surrounding Fukushima, according to the Japanese government. A food safety panel has already announced that mandatory radiation inspections on Fukushima rice will be gradually replaced with random spot checks, which is already the norm for produce.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations supports the change to the food safety checks. The organization’s director-general publicly ate Fukushima fruit candies at an event in Tokyo last year to encourage others to trust in the region’s food safety measures. This month, the governor of Fukushima traveled to Paris to promote Fukushima farm products at a “Fukushima Pride” tasting event.

Following the disaster, the Japanese government adopted the strictest radiation standards in the world, making the accepted radiation level 50 becquerels per kilogram (previously, it had been 100).

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