TAIPEI – Taiwan is considering phasing out restrictions on the import of food products from five Japanese prefectures banned in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima reactor meltdowns.
Deputy Council of Agriculture Minister Chen Chi-chung told Kyodo News that the administration is working toward the direction of relaxing the restrictions in two stages.
At the first stage, the import of food products with “low safety risks” would be allowed, the implementation of which would serve as a reference for the relaxation of the restrictions at the second stage, he said.
Food and Drug Administration Director General Chiang Yu-mei floated a similar idea in August, proposing that the government allow the import of Japanese food products with “low safety risks” at the first stage, while keeping in place a ban on food with “high safety risks,” such as baby food and processed food.
Chen revealed Wednesday that an interministerial delegation visited Japan from Aug. 21 and Aug. 29 to collect information of food producers and consumers and has subsequently completed a report, which will serve as an important reference for the government decision on the issue.
Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to Japan, Frank Hsieh, hinted in June that the Taiwan government might relax restricts on food imports from Japan as early as the end of this year.
Chen said Wednesday that it is hard to say how long the process will take, but “there is no doubt that we are handling the matter with a pro-active attitude,” while emphasizing that food safety and public health must be ensured.
Polls conducted by the FDA have shown that a majority of Taiwanese people are in favor of phasing out the ban on food from four of the Japanese prefectures, except Fukushima, where the nuclear disaster occurred.
Chen emphasized Wednesday the importance of scientific evidence, saying the ban on products with “high safety risks” will remain in place regardless of their source of origin.
Following the March 2011 disaster, Taiwan banned food imports from Fukushima Prefecture and nearby Ibaraki, Gunma, Tochigi and Chiba prefectures, and has been conducting random radiation checks on nine categories of imported foods.
In light of a series of violations of the ban earlier last year, Taiwan began to implement stricter measures in May last year, requiring that all food products from Japan carry prefecture-specific labels of origin, and some food products from certain prefectures carry documents proving they have passed radiation checks.
However, Japan has criticized Taiwan for failing to base the measure on scientific grounds and has asked the island’s government to reverse its decision.
Apart from asking Taiwan to reverse its decision on the tougher restrictions, Japan has also been urging Taiwan to lift the import ban on the five Japanese prefectures.
Taiwanese Foreign Minister David Lee has said that the government is moving in the direction of phasing out the import ban, but it is up to the Ministry of Health and Welfare to decide when and how to implement it.
Health authorities have said there is no timetable for when to relax the restrictions as they are still assessing the situation.
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