Gov’t to seek lower EU guard on farm produce, seafood imports from Fukushima

13 September 2017

The central government is set to work harder on the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union (EU), to go ahead with its planned relaxation of restrictions on agricultural produce and seafood imported from Japan, including from Fukushima Prefecture. The move follows the adoption of a resolution by the European Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee calling for reviewing the proposed easing of curbs, imposed after the 2011 nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi plant. In response to a joint emergency petition by the governors of 10 prefectures, including Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori, senior government officials such as Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Ken Saito indicated on Sept. 12 that the central government will take the initiative in dealing with the issue.

Uchibori and his top aides held a series of talks in Tokyo with Suga, Saito and Parliamentary Vice Foreign Minister Mitsunari Okamoto, among other officials. The Fukushima side cautioned them that harmful rumors at home and abroad about Fukushima products would worsen, to the detriment of resumption of exports to non-EU countries, if the EU fails to realize its proposed policy to lower restrictions on food imports from Japan. The policy was revealed last July by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker during his meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Saito said at the outset of his meeting with the Fukushima officials that the government’s “strong intention to seek relaxation and removal of import restrictions on the basis of scientific grounds remains absolutely intact,” adding that it “will continue to work on the European Commission.”

The farm minister also made clear that the government briefed commission officials on the strictness of inspections for radioactive substances and other details of safety measures in Japan after the committee resolution was adopted, renewing its call for the elimination of import curbs on Fukushima products such as rice and some fish species this fall or thereafter.

Talks with Suga were held behind closed doors. After the meeting, Uchibori told Fukushima-Minpo Co., publisher of the namesake vernacular daily, that he “was able to confirm the government’s strong will to address the issue at its own initiative.” The European Commission is expected to make a final decision soon, possibly between late this month and early October. The government is poised to step up efforts in partnership with the prefectures concerned to have the commission proceed with its original plan.

As for the highest allowable standard for radioactive cesium content in general food, the EU has set it at 1,250 becquerels per kilogram while Japan has a far stricter standard of 100 becquerels, less than a 10th the EU level.

Photo: Farm minister Ken Saito (right) tells visiting Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori of a government policy to take the initiative in calling for relaxation of EU food import curbs at a meeting at the ministry in Tokyo on the morning of Sept. 12.

(Translated by Kyodo News)