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Japanese queue to buy produce from nuclear crisis area

by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) April 12, 2011
Japanese shoppers on Tuesday snapped up fruit and vegetables farmed in the area hit by a nuclear disaster at a specially organised market, saying they wanted to show solidarity with the region.

The event was held to support the hard-hit farmers of an area of northeastern Japan devastated by the triple whammy of a massive earthquake followed by a tsunami and the biggest nuclear catastrophe since Chernobyl.

Shoppers in the capital Tokyo lined up on the first day of the two-day market to buy fresh strawberries, asparagus, tomatoes and leeks from Iwaki -- an area about 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the Fukushima Daiichi plant, which was devastated by the disaster.

Fears over heightened radiation levels have triggered shipping bans on some produce from nearby Fukushima prefecture, home to the crippled nuclear plant, but organisers said tests had shown everything on sale was safe to consume.

The government's chief spokesman Yukio Edano, who has sought to calm fears over radiation contamination, exclaimed "this is so sweet" as he ate a strawberry before the gathered media at the event.

"This is food that people who are going through great pain devoted all of their energy to produce," Edano said.

"Only safe produce is being distributed. Please eat it," he added, saying the government planned to organise other events to promote produce from the disaster zone.

The 9.0-magnitude earthquake and deadly tsunami on March 11 killed thousands of people and severely damaged the Fukushima nuclear plant, which is leaking harmful radioactivity that has prompted the mass evacuation of local residents.

The disaster has prompted a number of countries to restrict imports of Japanese food and hit the local farming and fishing industries hard.

Shopper Reira Shimada, 25, said she was planning to give her one-year-old daughter produce from the region.

"It's a pity the area is suffering because of rumours. I would like to do what I can to help with the recovery," she said.

"I cannot deny that I'm a little bit worried. But farmers put so much effort into growing their vegetables, and they would not sell anything harmful."

The government last month banned the sale of all untreated milk and many vegetables from Fukushima and some neighbouring prefectures amid fears of heightened radiation levels.

But it partially lifted the restrictions on Friday after weekly tests showed levels of radiation came well below the legal threshold in products.

Asuka Tajima, 38, said she had spotted the event as she passed by, and had bought tomatoes to show her support.

"I believe that farm products sold in markets are safe. I will keep buying vegetables from Fukushima at supermarkets without hesitation," she added.

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