HONG KONG - Agricultural minister Yuji Yamamoto said in Hong Kong on Thursday that he has requested the territory to lift a food ban that restricts imports from five Japanese prefectures most affected by a radiation-leak scare following the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011.
Imports of Japanese food, including milk, vegetables and fruits, from Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma and Chiba prefectures have been banned since March 2011 following the magnitude-9 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that led to the nuclear plant meltdowns over worries about contamination by radioactive substances.
However, meat, poultry, eggs and aquatic products can be imported with radiation certificates stating their safety.
“I made a request to (Chief Secretary for Administration Carrie Lam during a meeting Wednesday), if the regulation on the import of food from Japan could be relaxed and be eliminated,” Yamamoto told media at the opening of the annual Food Expo, where a record number of more than 250 Japanese companies are in Hong Kong promoting their products, including those from the prefectures of Fukushima and Kumamoto, which was hit by a series of earthquakes in April.
“(On Friday) I should have a meeting with Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing-man. I expect that they will respond after very careful consideration and deliberation,” he said, adding that he wishes there could be a scientific-based analysis of products from Fukushima to eliminate the reputational damage.
Ko said monitoring will remain for the safety of Hong Kong people.
“We have been relying on a risk- and evidence-based method to decide on the prohibition of fresh food imports from five Japanese prefectures,” Ko told reporters after touring the food fair. “We have continued to examine the progress made in Japan’s handling of the Fukushima nuclear incident,” including the measures they have put in place and test results on the food, he said.
“We will look at all the information and make decisions on a scientific basis. In the upcoming meeting (with Yamamoto), we will explain to them Hong Kong’s position, which, most importantly, is that we will manage food safety based on the well-being of Hong Kong people,” he said.
The value of Japan’s agricultural, forestry and fishery exports last year reached a record-high ¥745 billion ($7.34 billion). Hong Kong remained the top destination for the 11th consecutive year, with a value of ¥179 billion, marking a 33 percent increase from 2014, according to ministry data.
The sale of dried sea cucumber, considered a healthy seafood delicacy, to Hong Kong registered a slight decline, while sales of instant noodles increased by 50 percent, which Yamamoto said was a “major surprise.”
Eliza Au, 40, owner of a startup private kitchen, said after sampling products from Kumamoto Prefecture she is confident in the quality of Japanese food.
“The fruit, the Wagyu beef, all went under strict safety inspections, and the seasoning, the mix and match are all so appealing,” Au said.
The food fair, which showcases some 1,400 exhibitors from 26 countries and regions, will run through Monday.