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Relaxing ban on Japanese food needs rational discussion: Tsai

Kyodo

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said Saturday the public should rationally discuss the issue of whether to ease restrictions on food imports from five Japanese prefectures imposed in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Speaking at a question-and-answer session at a year-end news conference at the Presidential Office, Tsai emphasized, however, that there is no set timetable nor any urgency for easing the ban.

Following the March 2011 disaster triggered by a powerful earthquake and tsunami, Taiwan banned food imports from Fukushima Prefecture and nearby Ibaraki, Gunma, Tochigi, and Chiba prefectures, and in addition has been conducting random radiation checks on nine categories of imported foods.

The Tsai administration recently formulated a plan to relax the ban in two stages. Under the proposal, Taiwan plans to keep in place its ban on the import of all food products from Fukushima but conditionally allow imports of certain products from the four other prefectures.

The implementation of the first stage of the plan would serve as a reference for the further relaxation of the restrictions in the second stage, possibly about six months later.

However, the plan has received strong opposition from the Nationalist Party (KMT), the largest opposition party.

KMT Vice Chairman Hau Lung-bin has initiated a signature drive to endorse a referendum on whether to relax the ban.

In addition to holding demonstrations, the KMT has urged the public to recall elected officials supporting the government plan. It also mobilized supporters to boycott three more public hearings organized to explain the government’s plan and debunk some misleading rumors.

The first public hearing in New Taipei City was cancelled and became a panel. The remaining two have been postponed.

The three public hearings were scheduled after 10 were held across the island last month. The KMT criticized the Tsai government for holding the 10 hearings in three days, questioning whether it has made a secret deal with Japan in exchange for something.

Expressing regret over the disturbances at the public hearing, Tsai emphasized that the fundamental principles by which her administration handles the issue is that public health must be ensured, discussions must be rational and communications with the Taiwan public must continue.

However, Tsai indicated that public hearings are not the only way to communicate with the public, without elaborating.