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Sushi Purchases From Japan Canceled Amid Radiation Concerns

Sushi Purchases From Japan Canceled Amid Radiation Concerns
A fishmonger slices up a bluefin tuna at Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market on March 28. Photographer: Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images

Exports of Japanese seafood have been canceled by foreign buyers on concern that the products may have been contaminated by radiation leaking from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, a government official said.

At least 10 orders have been withdrawn since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami damaged the power station, Hiromi Isa, trade office director at Japan’s Fisheries Agency, said in an interview in Tokyo yesterday. The cancellations were made even as the government assured the food’s safety, Isa said.

Sushi restaurants and hotels, including Shangri-La Asia’s luxury chain, dropped Japanese seafood from their menus because of radiation fears. Global fishing companies such as Hong Kong’s Pacific Andes International Holdings Ltd. could benefit from increased demand to replace Japanese produce. Japan exported 565,295 metric tons of fish and other marine products worth 195 billion yen ($2.41 billion) last year.

“We’ve heard from Japanese exporting companies that fish purchases have been canceled and buyers have been asking for discounts,” Isa said. He declined to identify companies and countries involved, or the size of the withdrawn orders.

Radioactive iodine in seawater near the stricken plant climbed yesterday to 3,355 times the allowable limit, Japan’s nuclear safety agency said today.

Import Curbs

Nations from Australia to the U.S. have limited Japanese food imports after elevated radiation levels were found outside an evacuation radius around the Fukushima plant. Singapore banned seafood imports from Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma while allowing shipments from other Japanese prefectures.

“Our test results showed no fish were contaminated by higher-than-acceptable levels of radioactivity,” Isa said. “We can issue certificates for the origin of fish if required by overseas governments as a condition for imports.”

Japan exported 120,416 tons of mackerel last year and 79,767 tons of tuna. The nation’s total output of marine products amounted to 5.43 million tons in 2009, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

Since last week, the Fisheries Research Agency has tested samples from five types of fish caught off the coast of Choshi city in Chiba prefecture, the fishing area south of the Fukushima nuclear plant. The institute has been monitoring radioactivity in Japanese marine life for the past five decades, after nuclear arms testing by the U.S. and the former Soviet Union raised concerns about contamination.

Alfonsino, Mackerel

The institute detected 3 becquerel per kilogram of cesium-137 in anchovy, but nothing in samples from alfonsino, mackerel, spear squid and olive flounder. The level was far below the standard set by Japan’s health ministry of 500 becquerel per kilogram for fish.

“Unlike mercury, radioactive cesium won’t be accumulated or concentrated in fish as it is discharged,” said Takami Morita, a researcher at the Fisheries Agency. Radiation is also diluted in seawater, lowering the contamination risk.

Japan’s health ministry requires each prefectural governor to test agricultural and marine products for radioactive contamination and restricts shipments from regions where tainted foods are discovered. The ministry has tentatively set tolerable levels of radioactivity for each product.

The government has restricted shipments of raw milk and vegetables from Fukushima and neighboring prefectures after it discovered contaminated products.

To alleviate concerns, Japan will explain the safety of its products sold in the domestic and overseas markets to the World Trade Organization, Isa said.

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