Sat, Dec 08, 2018 - Page 3 News List

Food ban hard to defend due to opacity: officials

FUKUSHIMA:Convincing the WTO that a blanket ban on Japanese food is justified could prove difficult, as the nation’s testing methods and results are vague, they said

By Huang Hsin-po and Jake Chung  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Control Yuan member Peter Chang yesterday at a news conference in Taipei speaks to reporters about the government’s lack of independent risk assessment for Japanese imports.

Photo: Liao Chen-huei, Taipei Times

A lack of transparency and independent risk assessment makes it difficult for the nation to convince the WTO that a continued ban on some Japanese food imports is in line with the body’s rules on sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures, two Control Yuan members said yesterday.

The Executive Yuan’s Food Safety Office, the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Atomic Energy Council should make improvements in seven areas, Control Yuan members Peter Chang (張武修) and Yang Mei-ling (楊美鈴) said.

Inspections must be performed more professionally and more people should be hired for the job, they said, urging more information transparency about risk assessments and that such testing be brought in line with international law.

Chang said the health ministry should investigate why it failed to restore public confidence in Japanese foods, even though 130,000 Japanese items sampled fully complied with national standards.

By contrast, six of 498 food items from other countries failed to meet standards, but no action was taken, implying that Japanese imports are consciously targeted for inspections, Chang said.

The government has failed to effectively communicate to the public why it should allow imports from five Japanese prefectures that were banned following the 2011 Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear disaster, even though Taiwan has one of the strictest food import standards, Chang said.

For example, Taiwan restricts total caesium-134 and caesium-137 concentrations in baby food and milk products measured by radioactivity to less than 50 becquerels (Bq) per kg, while EU countries allow 400Bq and 1000Bq, and US standards permit up to 1200Bq, Chang said.

Inspections by the atomic council are not sufficiently systematic, while the health ministry is not transparent about its risk assessments, Chang said.

Imposing more restrictions on Japanese imports based on a fear of exposure to radiation is not in line with the basic requirements for SPS measures, the Control Yuan members said.

The passing of referendum No. 9, held alongside the Nov. 24 elections, has created a legal basis to restrict Japanese food imports, but Taiwan must convince the WTO that such restrictions are in compliance with basic SPS obligations, Chang said.

The referendum asked: “Do you agree that the government should, in connection to the March 11 Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear disaster, continue to enforce the food imports ban on 31 regions in Japan, including agricultural and food products from Fukushima and the surrounding four prefectures and municipalities (Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma and Chiba)?”

Failure to convince the WTO could result in Japan filing a dispute against Taiwan with the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body, citing overly strict control measures, Chang said.

After Japan filed a similar dispute against South Korea, the WTO ruled against South Korea’s ban on Japanese food imports in Dispute Settlement 495, Chang said.

Taiwan and China are clearly moving away from global standards, he added.

Unlike Canada, New Zealand and the US, Taiwan and China have placed blanket bans on all produce from certain areas, while demanding evidence and certification for food products from elsewhere in Japan, Chang said.

Canada and New Zealand have removed checks for nuclear contamination at their borders, while the US only bans specific foods from certain areas, Chang added.

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