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Global food scare widens from Japan nuclear plant

A woman holds a bag of Japanese spinach at a Japanese supermarket in Hong Kong on March 24, 2011. Shops and restaurants in sushi-mad Hong Kong, one of Japan's key food export markets, have been hit badly by the radiation scare with shoppers and diners deserting Japanese produce en masse. Photo courtesy AFP.

Singapore halts food imports from near Japan plant
Singapore (AFP) March 24, 2011 - Singapore has suspended imports of milk products and other foodstuffs from four areas near Japan's damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant due to radioactivity fears, regulators said Thursday. The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) told AFP it suspended imports of dairy products, fruits, vegetables, seafood and meat from the Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma prefectures with immediate effect late Wednesday. "The suspension is in line with the precautionary approach adopted by other countries such as US and Australia," the AVA said in a statement on its website. "Meanwhile, AVA will continue to closely monitor and test imports of food from Japan," it added.

The US, Australia and Hong Kong have also restricted dairy and vegetable imports, and France called on the European Union to do the same, while Japan was testing seawater to measure the impact on marine life. Japan has already ordered a halt to consumption and shipments of farm products grown near the Fukushima power plant, which was struck by the powerful earthquake and tsunami of March 11, triggering explosions and fires at the nuclear facility. Japanese health ministry tests found elevated levels of iodine and caesium in food samples including broccoli and spinach from the area.

Canada restricts food imports from Japan
Ottawa (AFP) March 23, 2011 - Canada on Wednesday announced it has tightened restrictions on food imports from areas near Japan's damaged nuclear power plant that has leaked radiation, officials said. The restrictions were imposed on milk products, fruits and vegetables from four Japanese prefectures as the radiation food scare continued to ripple around the world. "These products will not be allowed entry into Canada without acceptable documentation verifying their safety," the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) said in a statement.

The United States, Australia and Hong Kong have restricted dairy and vegetable imports, and France called on the European Union to do the same, while Japan was testing seawater to measure the impact on marine life. Japan ordered a halt to consumption and shipments of farm products grown near the Fukushima power plant, which was struck by a powerful earthquake and tsunami on March 11, triggering explosions and fires at the nuclear facility. Japanese health ministry tests found vastly elevated levels of iodine and caesium. Canada's restrictions are specific to the Japanese prefectures of Fukushima, Gunma, Ibaraki, and Tochigi.

"Any potentially contaminated products will be disposed of in accordance with protocols from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission," its statement said. "Given the evolving nature of the Japanese situation, these measures will be adjusted, as warranted, to ensure the Canadian food supply remains protected," it added. The CFIA said it "recognizes that the government of Japan is taking steps to address this issue and we will continue to provide support to their efforts." The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) said it routinely monitors radioactivity levels in shipping containers.
by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) March 24, 2011
Countries across the world have shunned Japanese food imports as radioactive steam leaked from a disaster-struck nuclear plant, straining nerves in Tokyo.

The grim toll of dead and missing from Japan's monster earthquake and tsunami on March 11 topped 26,000. Hundreds of thousands remained huddled in evacuation shelters and fears grew in Tokyo over water safety.

The damage to the Fukushima nuclear plant from the tectonic calamity and a series of explosions has stoked global anxiety. The United States and Hong Kong have already restricted Japanese food, and France wants the European Union to do the same.

Russia ordered a halt to food imports from four prefectures -- Fukushima, Gunma, Ibaraki and Tochigi -- near the stricken plant some 250 kilometres (155 miles) northeast of Tokyo.

Moscow also quarantined a Panama-flagged cargo ship that had passed near the plant and put its 19 crew under medical supervision after detecting radiation levels three times the norm in the engine room.

Australia banned produce from the area, including seaweed and seafood, milk, dairy products, fresh fruit and vegetables.

It said, however, that Japanese food already on store shelves was safe, as it had shipped before the quake, and that "the risk of Australian consumers being exposed to radionuclides in food imported from Japan is negligible".

Canada implemented enhanced import controls on products from the four prefectures.

Singapore suspended imports of milk products and other foodstuffs from the same four prefectures, as well as all food products from two more -- Chiba and Ehime.

The city-state's move came after officials found "radioactive contaminants" in four samples of vegetables from Japan, though the authorities stressed the radiation levels in the produce were still very low.

The Philippines banned Japanese chocolate imports, and Indonesia asked that Japan certify its exported processed foods as radiation-free.

"Food safety issues are an additional dimension of the emergency," said three UN agencies in a joint statement issued in Geneva, pledging they were "committed to mobilising their knowledge and expertise" to help Japan.

Japan was taking the right actions, said the International Atomic Energy Agency, World Health Organization, and Food and Agriculture Organization.

In greater Tokyo, an urban sprawl of more than 30 million people, strong aftershocks served as uncomfortable reminders that Japan's capital itself is believed to be decades overdue for a mega-quake.

The anxiety was compounded by the Tokyo government's revelation Wednesday that radioactive iodine in the drinking water was more than twice the level deemed safe for infants, although it remained within safe adult limits.

The news triggered a run on bottled water in shops and the city's ubiquitous vending machines, while the Tokyo government started to give families three 550-millilitre (18.5-ounce) bottles of water per infant.

A measurement on Thursday was in the safe zone for infants again, officials said, but this was not enough to calm all parents of young children and many bought up what bottled water they could.

Authorities in Chiba, Tochigi urged parents not to give infants tap water after finding levels of radioactive iodine breached the safe limit for babies.

Japan's government has also halted shipments of untreated milk and vegetables from Fukushima and three adjoining prefectures, and stepped up radiation monitoring at another six, covering an area that borders Tokyo.

The health ministry has detected 82,000 becquerels of radioactive caesium -- 164 times the safe limit -- in the green vegetable kukitachina, and elevated levels in another 10 vegetables, including cabbage and turnips.

At the source of the radiation -- the Fukushima plant located on the Pacific coast -- white smoke was seen wafting from four of the six reactors.

Fire engines again aimed high-pressure water jets at the number three reactor, a day after a plume of dark smoke there forced workers to evacuate, in a bid to avert a full meltdown that would release greater radiation.

Highlighting the risks taken by the emergency crew, three workers were exposed to high radiation -- at least 170 millisieverts.

Two of them were sent to hospital after they stepped into a puddle of water that reached the skin on their legs despite their radiation suits.

Engineers have now linked up an external electricity supply to all six reactors and are testing system components and equipment in an effort to restart the tsunami-hit cooling systems and stabilise the reactors.

On Thursday, they partially restored power to the control room at reactor number one.

The grim statistics from Japan's worst post-war disaster kept on rising, with 9,811 now confirmed dead and 17,541 listed as missing by national police.

Scientists at the Port and Airport Research Institute meanwhile found that the tsunami that swallowed entire towns was even bigger than first thought. In devastated Ofunato, Iwate prefecture, it topped 23 metres (76 feet).


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