Radiation Scare Prompts Asian Countries to Screen Imports of Japanese Food

Asian countries moved to screen food imports from Japan following explosions at the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant that raised radiation levels at the complex to harmful levels.

South Korea, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines all took steps to check fruit, vegetables, meat and seafood from Japan for nuclear material. Radiation at Fukushima’s No. 3 reactor today reached 400 millisieverts per hour, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said. A radiation dose of 100 millisieverts a year is the lowest level at which any increase in cancer is evident, the World Nuclear Association said on its website.

Edano later said radiation readings outside the power plant were falling below levels that are harmful.

“We will use the same measures that we used during Chernobyl in 1986,” Pipat Yingseree, secretary-general of Thailand’s Food and Drug Administration, told reporters in Bangkok today. “If it becomes clear that there is radioactive contamination, we will ask for cooperation from operators to delay food imports from Japan, and we will implement serious checks by seizing all products and inspecting all of them.”

Concerns over contaminated food and other exports may hinder Japan’s economic recovery following the biggest two-day stock sell-off since 1987. The world’s fourth-strongest earthquake since 1900 and the ensuing tsunami may have claimed more than 10,000 lives, according to police estimates.

Japanese food and beverage companies that earn more than 20 percent of their revenue overseas fell today, mirroring the 10.6 percent decline in the Nikkei 225 (NKY) index. Kikkoman Corp. (2801), Japan’s biggest soy-sauce maker, dropped 17.5 percent, while Kameda Seika Co., a maker of rice cakes, shed 11 percent.

Radioactivity Tests

South Korea plans to strengthen radioactivity tests on livestock and marine products from Japan, the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said in an e-mailed statement today. South Korea imported 527 metric tons of livestock products, mostly dairy, and 84,018 tons of marine products from Japan last year, it said.

“As a precautionary measure, samples of fresh produce exported from Japan after 11 March 2011, such as seafood, fruits, vegetables and meat, are being tested for radioactive contaminants with immediate effect,” the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore said in a statement.

Indonesia planned to ask Japan to certify that packaged foods are free of radioactive materials and will check the location of each manufacturer before allowing imports, Kustantinah, head of the National Agency of Drug and Food Control, said by phone today in Jakarta. About 3 percent of food items sold in the Indonesian market come from Japan, she said.

Malaysia, Philippines

“If they came from an area close to the disaster region, we may not accept them,” said Kustantinah, who uses one name. “We have to anticipate; we don’t want any health risks.”

Malaysia will check food items including fish, fruit, cereal, beverages, canned food and meat, the New Straits Times reported, citing Health Minister Liow Tiong Lai. Malaysia imported more than 48,000 tons of such food from Japan last year, according to the newspaper.

The Philippines will also inspect food coming from Japan, President Benigno Aquino’s spokesman Ricky Carandang said today.

Atomic bomb tests in Nevada during the 1950s and 1960s released radioactive iodine, or I-131, into the atmosphere that was blown thousands of miles away. Animals grazing on pastures contaminated with I-131 had the radioactive material in their milk, which poisoned some children, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

After the 1986 reactor accident at Chernobyl, governments in Europe condemned some agricultural lands, removed contaminated pasture grasses from animal diets and monitored milk for radiation levels, according to a 2005 World Health Organization report.

They also banned consumption of game meat, berries and mushrooms in forests. Concerns about the levels of radioactive material in milk, meat and plant foods persisted two decades after the accident, the report said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Daniel Ten Kate in Bangkok at dtenkate@bloomberg.net;

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net

Bloomberg reserves the right to remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.