U.S. lifts import ban on food products from Fukushima, elsewhere in Japan

The United States has eliminated all import restrictions on food products from 14 prefectures in Japan, including Fukushima, imposed after the killer earthquake-caused nuclear accident in 2011 at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries announced on Sept. 22. The banned products from Fukushima in question were 35 items, the largest number among the prefectures. They included rice, raw milk, and log-grown "shiitake" mushrooms. The U.S. move is expected to help dissipate the bad reputation overseas of Fukushima products stemming from the disaster and further expand exports from the prefecture. But 14 foreign countries and regions still have import curbs in place, leaving the central and prefectural governments with the challenging issue of working toward seeing the remaining restrictions lifted. 35 Fukushima items affected, including rice, raw milk According to the ministry, the Fukushima-produced farm, forestry and fishery products on which the U.S. import ban was removed are as listed below. They are 35 items, including rice, raw milk, log-grown "shiitake" and "nameko" mushrooms, vegetables such as cabbage and broccoli, wild vegetables like butterbur sprouts and "koshiabura" wild tree sprouts, and fish including "ugui" Japanese dace. Japan's agricultural, forestry and seafood exports to the United States totaled 118.8 billion yen in 2020, the third-largest amount after those to Hong Kong and China. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga urged U.S. President Joe Biden to eliminate the import restraints during his visit to Washington in April. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration decided on the import ban removal based on scientific grounds after conducting its own inspections and using the safety data presented by the ministry, among other measures, according to ministry officials. The United States is the largest importer of Fukushima products, with "sake" rice wine and processed food on the list of key import items. The country accounted for about 40% of the prefecture's overall exports, which totaled 347 million yen in fiscal 2020 through March this year. Farm and livestock products exported to the United States from Fukushima comprise beef alone. And its U.S.-bound shipments, which were running at several hundred kilograms a year before the accident, rose to a record high of 4,577 kg in fiscal 2018 -- a showing viewed as reflecting the high marks given to the quality of prefectural beef. The local government expects the total lifting of restrictions will spur expansion of beef exports. After the nuclear accident, 55 countries and regions imposed import restrictions on Japanese food products. The U.S. removal has reduced the number of restricted foreign markets to 14. But mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and South Korea maintain bans irrespective of certificates showing no content of radioactive substances. Restrictions are in force in nine countries and regions, including the European Union (EU), where imports are allowed with radiation safety certificates. In the wake of a recent government decision to discharge wastewater from the nuclear plant into the sea after treatment, people in Fukushima have expressed concerns that the move may discourage these foreign markets from removing restrictions. The national government is aiming to gain approval from these countries, including through disseminating information about product safety and diplomatic activities. The Fukushima prefectural government is trying to seize on the U.S. removal of bans as a good opportunity and plans to support businesses seeking to export rice and other fresh items. Extending assistance for business negotiations is one of the specific steps being considered. Listed below are farm, forestry and fishery products made in Fukushima Prefecture, on which the U.S. import ban has been removed Raw milk, wild aralia sprouts, rockfish (Sebastes cheni), bamboo shoots, non-head-type leafy vegetables ("komatsuna" Japanese mustard spinach, garland chrysanthemums, qing-geng-cai, "mizuna" potherb mustard, red leaf lettuce, spinach), head-type leafy vegetables (cabbage, Chinese cabbage, lettuce), flower-head brassicas vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower), chestnuts, wild Japanese butterbur scrapes, Japanese royal ferns, "koshiabura" wild tree sprouts, kiwi fruit, log-grown "shitake" mushrooms, log-grown pholiota nameko mushrooms (outdoor cultivation), wild mushrooms, ostrich ferns, Pteridium aquilinum (bracken ferns), rice, turnips, "ume" Japanese plums, giant butterburs, wild uwabamisou, "yuzu" fruit, "yamame" trout (except farm-raised), "ugui" Japanese dace, eels, "iwana" landlocked char (except farm-raised), common carp (except farm-raised), bear meat, beef (products), wild boar meat, cooper pheasant, green pheasant, hare meat, spot-billed duck. U.S. move seen helping to dispel bad rumors: governor On Sept. 22, Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori released a statement on the U.S. removal of its import ban on Japanese food products. "The elimination of all import restrictions on Japanese agricultural, forestry and fishery products by the United States, an important trading partner for these products, will affect other countries that are still restricting their imports, taking a major step toward dispelling bad rumors about our prefecture," Uchibori said, pledging to proceed with the initiatives to ensure the safety and security of Fukushima-produced farm, forestry and seafood products. "We will enhance efforts to disseminate precise information, based on scientific grounds, about our agricultural, forestry and fishery products as well as sake, coupled with their attractions. We will work with full force toward seeing restrictions that are still in place removed further." (Translated by Kyodo News)