Sun, Oct 14, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Lax standards endanger Taiwanese

By Jay Fang 方儉

During weekends between last month and this month six marquees have been set up outside the Eslite Store on Zhongcheng Road in Taipei City’s Tianmu (天母), which are full of agricultural goods from northeast Japan. There were all kinds of produce, from fresh vegetables to pickles.

“Come and get your imported Japanese veg, NT$100 for three bags ... please support the farmers in northeast Japan, help them get over the disaster,” called out a student, who was earning a little extra cash for his studies.

The event organizer was drumming up a fair bit of business and was selling goods produced by farmers who are trying to pick themselves up after the crippling earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on March 11 last year. Unfortunately, there seemed to be more students selling the goods than there were people watching, and there were far more people watching than there were actually buying.

One customer asked: “Aren’t these from Iwate Prefecture? Wasn’t Iwate affected by radiation from the Fukushima nuclear disaster?”

The reply was to the effect that all the produce on sale had been tested in Japan and was only exported after satisfying the country’s safety standards — and that Taiwan’s government had also tested them, so there was no need to worry. Another answer to a similar question went something like: “All of the products are grown hydroponically in greenhouses, so there is no risk of contamination.”

The sellers were constantly having to reassure the customers in that way and it did not always work.

“So they’re cultivated in water, but it’s still local water, and even the water in Tokyo is contaminated, most people there are having to drink mineral water, so who knows what the water is like further up to the northeast,” people said.

Ever since the March 11 disaster the world has regained its fear of radiation. It started with people in China panic-buying iodized salt, which they believed would protect them from radiation drifting over from Japan, followed by people everywhere testing the air quality — as well as Japanese exports — for signs of radiation. Finally, some fish caught off the west coast of the US tested positive for radioactive particles, which were generated by the stricken Fukushima nuclear reactor, suggesting that the entire Pacific ocean had been affected. From this point on, countries around the world either prohibited or placed restrictions upon the import of Japanese products.

All countries, that is, except Taiwan, where Japanese products are still being accepted. Since the March 11 disaster, the government has been more active in spreading propaganda about radiation than the Japanese government itself. The myths include telling the public that nuclear power plants are perfectly safe and that low levels of radiation actually help to cure certain diseases. It is all rubbish spread by retired members of the Atomic Energy Council (AEC) with no evidence to back it up.

The governments of Taiwan and Japan have got together to reduce the barriers which limit the importation of contaminated Japanese food products. The Department of Health (DOH) has announced that it is performing tests on Japanese imports “by the batch.”

According to data the DOH provided to Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Tien Chiu-chin (田秋堇), 28,410 items — listed over 649 pages — passed the tests, with the vast majority testing zero for radioactivity and all items falling within the safety standards. Only 100 or so items tested positive for between one to dozens of becquerels per kilogram (Bq/kg) of the radioactive isotopes cesium-137 or cesium-134, and less than 10 were found to have radioactive iodine, tellurium or potassium isotopes.

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