Asian Stores, Eateries Drop Japan Food on Radiation Fears

Stores and restaurants across Asia dropped Japanese food from shelves and menus as the nation’s government halted spinach shipments and told residents around a stricken nuclear plant not to drink tap water.

The shipments will be stopped “for the time being,” even though contamination levels in Japanese food were not harmful, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said today at a briefing.

Mandarin Oriental International Ltd. joined Shangri-La Asia Ltd. in withdrawing Japanese fresh food from its kitchens. Lotte Shopping Co., South Korea’s biggest retailer, plans to halt sales of some fish from Japan starting tomorrow, Nah Geun Tae, a company spokesman, said by phone today.

Workers at the nuclear plant in Fukushima prefecture raced to repair damaged reactors after bringing down temperatures of pools holding spent fuel rods in the worst atomic disaster in 25 years. Higher-than-normal radiation was found in spinach and milk samples from Fukushima and neighboring Ibaraki prefectures, “but not at levels harmful to human health,” Edano said yesterday.

Sushi restaurants and hotels, including Shangri-La Asia’s luxury chain and London’s Zuma and Roka Japanese restaurants, said last week they stopped buying fresh produce from Japan because of fears of possible contamination.

Cathay, Marriott

Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd., Hong Kong’s biggest carrier, is serving meals prepared in the Chinese city on its flights from Japan to Hong Kong, Chief Executive Officer Tony Tyler said March 18. Marriott International Inc.’s JW Marriott Hotel in Hong Kong has stopped ordering food from Japan, spokeswoman Fiona Szeto said.

City’super, a Hong Kong supermarket chain, isn’t buying food from Fukushima prefecture and will look into revising its policy on imports from Japan today, said Emily Wong, a spokeswoman.

Concerns over possible radiation contamination of Japanese food may benefit some Australian food companies, said Richard Rains, chief executive officer of Sanger Australia Pty., which exports about 35,000 metric tons of beef to Japan yearly.

“It’s still early days to know how much it will help but we think it will help us,” he said by phone today. “People will need to get their protein from somewhere.”

Hilton Hotels

In Manila, Tsukiji restaurant owner Malu Gamboa said her brother is in Australia to look for alternative sources for food such as Wagyu beef. About a third of her clientele are Japanese, she said.

Some of Hilton Worldwide Inc.’s hotels in Asia have stopped buying fresh or raw food from Japan and are starting to buy from alternative suppliers outside Japan, including the Philippines, Indonesia, Scotland and Australia, said Celina Low, a spokeswoman.

Mandarin Oriental’s hotels will use non-Japanese suppliers to substitute Japanese produce, and its flagship Hong Kong location has already “taken the sensible precaution to temporarily suspend all food imports from Japan until the situation stabilizes,” said Sally DeSouza, a spokeswoman. The chain has 26 locations worldwide, according to its website.

A.S. Watson

Four shipments of vegetables imported from Japan in the past 24 hours were found to have “acceptable” levels of radiation, Gabriel Leung, Hong Kong’s undersecretary for Food and Health, said yesterday. They didn’t include spinach. Hong Kong has screened all shipments of food from Japan for radiation contamination since March 12.

Taiwan said yesterday it detected radiation on vegetables from Japan that was within acceptable limits. The government widened food checks to include 179 items, the island’s Atomic Energy Council said in a statement on its website today.

A.S. Watson Group (HK) Ltd., Hutchison Whampoa Ltd’s retail arm with 230 food stores in Hong Kong including PARKnSHOP and Great supermarkets, will follow the Hong Kong government’s advice on food safety, Kelvin Chu, a spokesman, said in an e-mail.

Of 10 shoppers questioned in Tokyo today, only one said they were “worried a bit” about the safety of produce available in the capital.

“Customers haven’t told me to stop serving food from Fukushima prefecture,” said Isao Masuda, a 48-year-old restaurant owner.

$6 Billion Exports

Shinsegae Co., which runs department and discount stores in South Korea, will continue to sell Japanese fish that pass the country’s safety tests, even as “logistical problems” halted some imports, said Hwang Jong Soon, a company spokesman.

Japan exported 481 billion yen ($6 billion) worth of food last year, accounting for 0.7 percent of total exports, according to data on the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries website. In 2009, more than 70 percent of Japan’s food exports went to Hong Kong, the U.S., China, Taiwan and South Korea, according to the Japan External Trade Organization.

Six prefectures most heavily affected by the March 11 magnitude-9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami accounted for 28 percent of Japan’s 8.48 million tons of rice production last year, according to the agricultural ministry figures. Fukushima prefecture accounted for 5 percent.

Japan exported 200,000 metric tons of rice for the year ended October 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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