Controls on Japanese food imports into Taiwan

  • Date: 2016-12-02

I. Background

In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster caused by the March 11, 2011 Japan earthquake, Taiwan’s government on March 25 began banning food imports from Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma and Chiba prefectures and subjecting nine types of food imports from other locations to batch-by-batch radiation residue testing. On May 15, 2015, the government stepped up inspections and also required certificates of origin for all Japanese foodstuffs imported into Taiwan, as well as radiation inspection certificates on specific items from certain locations. More than 94,000 batches of imported Japanese foodstuffs have been inspected so far, and all have met radiation safety standards; only trace levels of radiation were detected in 216 items, but those levels were still within acceptable Japanese and Taiwanese safety standards.

On November 7, 2016 the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) and the Council of Agriculture (COA) reported to the Legislature regarding on-site inspections of Japan’s radiation and food safety controls conducted by a Taiwanese government delegation in August, as well as the government’s proposal to adjust restrictions on Japanese food imports based on initial risk assessments and control measures. Following the resolutions of the Legislature’s Social Welfare and Environmental Hygiene Committee, the Executive Yuan held 10 public hearings on food safety throughout northern, central, southern and eastern Taiwan from November 12 to 14, and plans to convene three more meetings in December. Through direct, two-way communication, the government hopes to explain its proposal and assessment results to the public, dispel concerns about lifting restrictions on non-Fukushima food imports, and gather feedback from field experts and regional representatives on the formulation of future measures and policies.

 

II. Permissible levels of radioactivity in food, controls on Japan food imports around the world

A. Domestic and international limits for radioactivity in food:

1. The U.N. Codex Alimentarius Commission’s guidelines for radionuclides in infant foods and other foods is 100 becquerels per kilogram (Bq/kg) for iodine-131, and 1,000 Bq/kg for cesium-134 and -137 combined. In April of 2012 after Japan tightened its own standards for combined cesium levels, Taiwan applied those limits to Japanese food imports: 100 Bq/kg for general foods, 50 Bq/kg for milk and infant foods, and 10 Bq/kg for drinking water. Taiwan conducted strict border surveillance to ensure that only Japanese food products meeting the standards of both countries could enter Taiwan.

2. In January of 2016, Taiwan took further action by amending its Standards for the Tolerance of Atomic Dust and Radioactivity Contamination in Foods, setting the limit for iodine-131 in milk and infant foods at 55 Bq/kg, and lowering that limit in other foods from 300 Bq/kg to 100 Bq/kg. For combined cesium, the limit in general foods was tightened from 370 Bq/kg to 100 Bq/kg, and in milk and infant foods from 370 Bq/kg to 50 Bq/kg; the limit for soft drinks and bottled water was set at 10 Bq/kg. Only products meeting these standards may be imported into Taiwan.
 

B. Control measures in various countries:

1. Canada, Myanmar, Serbia, Mexico, Peru, New Zealand and Australia have lifted all import restrictions on Japanese food products.

2. Most countries currently have some restrictions in place: Hong Kong and Macau prohibit the import of fruits, milk and dairy products from the five affected prefectures, including Fukushima, while Russia, Singapore and South Korea prohibit aquatic products from Fukushima. The EU does not ban any products but requires certificates of origin and radiation inspection on certain products. The U.S. prohibits imports of food products that appear on the Japanese government’s list of banned exports.

3. Only Taiwan and China currently ban the import of all food products from the five affected prefectures including Fukushima.

 

III. Government proposals to ensure strict controls

A. All food items from Fukushima would remain banned from import.

B. Tea, drinking water, infant formula and wild aquatic products from Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma and Chiba would remain prohibited as before.

C. Other food products from the four prefectures above not accompanied by both a certificate of origin and a certificate of radiation inspection would be banned.

D. Products prohibited in the U.S. and Japan would remain banned in Taiwan.

 

IV. Protecting the nation’s health by tightening controls, importing only safe foods

Since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster, all Japanese food items imported into Taiwan have met the radiation safety standards of both countries. World Trade Organization (WTO) guidelines also specify that WTO member economies should ensure that their sanitary or phytosanitary measures are based on scientific principles and do not constitute disguised restrictions on international trade. To protect the nation’s health while meeting WTO guidelines, the government is therefore considering lifting the ban on non-Fukushima food imports in two stages. In the first stage, products originating in Fukushima would remain prohibited, but items from the four neighboring prefectures would be subject to batch-by-batch inspection under a high-risk control scheme. Reviews would be conducted six months into the first stage to help assess future adjustments to control measures.

Taiwan currently has no set timeframe for implementing these proposals, but will continue to monitor Japan’s regulation of foods from radiation-affected areas while considering the response by other countries. The government will put the health of consumers first and will not make any moves to adjust Taiwan’s import restrictions until all issues have been fully explained to the public.

 

A. Proposed adjustments in the first stage:

1. Tighten controls

(1) Products prohibited in Japan, wild animals and plants, and their derivative products would be banned in Taiwan: Regardless of place of origin, all products banned within Japan, as well as wild mushrooms, wild vegetables, meat from wild birds and animals, and any products derived therefrom would not be permitted to enter Taiwan’s market.

(2) Fukushima food products would remain prohibited: With environmental testing in Fukushima still showing high levels of radiation, this ban would remain in place.

2. Import only safe products

(1) Products from Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma and Chiba: High-risk food products such as drinking water, infant formula, tea and wild aquatic products would remain prohibited. Other food products must carry a certificate of origin and a report of radiation testing, both issued by an official Japanese government agency or authorized agent.

(2) Other locations: Products imported from the other 42 Japanese prefectures must be accompanied by a certificate of origin issued by an official Japanese government agency or authorized agent.

B. Complementary measures:

1. Source management: Food products imported from Japan must meet the radiation safety levels of both Taiwan and Japan, and certain products must carry certificates of origin and radiation testing.

2.  Border testing and market controls: Step up border inspections, immediately return or destroy products that fail to meet standards, review the status of products that fail inspection, and adjust restrictions on high-risk products in a timely manner. Local health departments will continue to conduct inspections and guide vendors to ensure Japanese food items have clear labels of origin.

3. Strengthen bilateral food safety cooperation: Promote the signing of a Taiwan-Japan memorandum of cooperation on food safety and import/export controls. Under this framework, the two countries would report and exchange information to ensure food safety and facilitate trade.

4. Post radiation tests of Japanese foods and Taiwanese fish catches: The government will continue radiation testing of Japanese food imports and fish caught by Taiwanese fishermen, posting results on MOHW and COA websites for the public to see.

5. Set up a webpage with Japanese food management information: The MOHW has created a special webpage on Japanese foods to provide relevant information to the public in a transparent manner.

 

V. Conclusion

The Taiwan government has always implemented food import risk management measures based on scientific principles, and imports from Japan are no exception. Japan has also adopted a raft of stringent measures so that the majority of their food products meet the radiation safety standards of both Taiwan and Japan. Considering these facts and Taiwan’s obligations to meet WTO guidelines for importing Japanese foods, Taiwan’s government must carefully consider changing import restrictions from a location-based strategy to a risk-based strategy, grounded in the principle of tighter controls and safe food imports. The government hopes to modify existing bans on Japanese food imports in a way that ensures food safety while protecting the nation’s overall interests.

The government has consistently taken a position dedicated to ensuring food safety and protecting public health. It will therefore continue to evaluate and communicate with the public regarding risks associated with Japanese food imports; impose stricter control standards than Europe, the U.S. and other advanced countries for food products from districts other than Fukushima; and rigorously enforce border controls and conduct strict batch-by-batch testing. Any modifications to these standards or procedures will be considered only after the import of radiation contaminated foods has ceased, food safety has been assured, and the public is confident about the foods they consume.