Asia more “worried” than Europe, U.S. about Fukushima food

6 December 2017

According to a survey on the reputation of food produced in Fukushima Prefecture covering some 12,500 people at home and abroad, more respondents in Asia said they are “worried about agricultural products from the prefecture” than in Europe and the United States. The survey, undertaken in February this year by a University of Tokyo graduate school, Fukushima University and other parties, found Taiwan had the greatest proportion -- 81.0% -- of concerned respondents, followed by South Korea with 69.3% and China with 66.3%. Five Western countries -- four European nations and the United States -- surveyed had lower rates ranging from 20% to 50%. Officials in charge of the poll said the safety of Fukushima food is ensured by routine tests for radioactive substances, thus pointing out the need to send out information more aggressively.

The outcome of the survey was reported in Tokyo on Dec. 5 by Naoya Sekiya, project associate professor at the Center for Integrated Disaster Information Research, Interfaculty Initiative in Information Studies, University of Tokyo, during a meeting on damage caused by unfounded rumors stemming from the 2011 nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi plant.

The Internet poll was taken by dividing it into international and domestic surveys, targeting men and women in their 20s to 60s. A total of 3,000 people from the United States and nine countries and region in Asia -- including Japan -- and Europe replied to the international survey while 9,489 people in and outside Fukushima responded to the domestic questionnaire. The results of past surveys undertaken using a similar formula were also announced.

In the international poll, the ratio of people with safety concerns exceeded 60% in each of the top three responding zones -- Taiwan (81.0%), South Korea (69.3%) and China (66.3%) -- while comparable proportions elsewhere were 56.0% in Russia, 55.7% in Germany, 39.7% in France, 35.7% in the United States and 29.3% in Britain. Japan had a 30.3% rate.

Referring in particular to the fact that Fukushima’s image in Asia has not recovered yet from immediately following the nuclear disaster, Sekiya said at the meeting: “It is necessary to more aggressively transmit information about the system of examination for radioactive substances and their results.” Ryota Koyama, professor of agricultural economics at the Faculty of Economics and Business Administration, Fukushima University, told the meeting that it is “important for the government to explain to foreign countries in a careful manner what has changed between right after the nuclear accident and the present.” He added, “The prefecture and other parties concerned, building on that, should push ahead with exploitation of new markets, branding and other efforts.”

An official of the prefectural government’s farm produce distribution section said of the survey results that “checks on radioactive substances and other relevant information have not been fully understood by neighboring countries while import restrictions are being eliminated gradually elsewhere, including in Southeast Asia and the European Union.”

The EU has removed some Fukushima products such as rice and vegetables from a list of food subject to import curbs, but the United States maintains an import ban on prefectural rice and some other products.

In Asia, some countries, including Myanmar, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, have lifted import restrictions on Fukushima food. But other countries and regions continue to prohibit imports of prefectural products, including food banned in China and Taiwan, vegetables and fruit in Hong Kong, and seafood in South Korea and Singapore.

(Translated by Kyodo News)