News / Asia

Japan Tells ASEAN Its Food Exports are Safe

Indonesia President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, second from left, Indonesia Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, left,  Secretary General of Association of Southeast Asia Nation (ASEAN) Surin Pitsuwan, right, and  Japanese Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto w
Indonesia President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, second from left, Indonesia Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, left, Secretary General of Association of Southeast Asia Nation (ASEAN) Surin Pitsuwan, right, and Japanese Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto w
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Angela Dewan

Japan has defended its food exports as healthy amid global fears that the country’s nuclear disaster has contaminated its dairy products, fruits and vegetables. Leaders of Southeast Asian nations met with Japanese officials in Indonesia to discuss support for the nation in crisis.

Japan has assured the world that its food exports do not contain dangerous levels of radioactive materials. As the number of countries imposing partial bans on Japanese food imports grows, Japan urges governments to act reasonably and not out of fear.

After a massive earthquake and tsunami damaged nuclear reactors in Japan’s northeast, Japan has for weeks struggled to contain radioactive materials within its nuclear plant in the Fukushima prefecture. Some foods produced in the area were found to be highly contaminated after the nuclear plant began leaking radioactive materials.

Speaking in the Indonesian capital Jakarta on Saturday, Japanese Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto told ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, that Japan had made great efforts to overcome its nuclear contamination problems.

Japan Foreign Ministry spokesman Satoru Satoh said that radioactive levels in Japan’s food had dropped significantly over the past few weeks and Japan’s food exports were safe to consume. "As a matter of fact, the level of radioactivity is reducing dramatically. Within one week after the earthquake, the level of radioactivity was very high, but since then radioactive materials in the soil, water and atmosphere have been reducing," he said.

The United States banned all dairy products and fruits and vegetables from four Japanese prefectures in late March. China had banned all food imports from five prefectures, and on Friday included a further seven prefectures in the ban. Canada, Russia, Australia, Singapore and others have followed suit.

The United States and a number of other countries, such as India and Indonesia, have requested that Japan certify its food exports as radioactive-free, but Japan says that would be a virtually impossible task.

Satoh said Japan would provide certification of origin to show which foods had been produced where, and share information about radioactive levels in the atmosphere, water and soil. "The important thing is that the Japanese government and local governments every day announce amounts detected in the atmosphere, food and water. I mean transparency is guaranteed in Japan on this issue," he said.

A plunge in food exports is just one of the many woes Japan has faced since the earthquake and tsunami struck.  Nearly 28,000 people are reported dead or missing from the disasters according to the National Police Agency of Japan which also says more than 150,000 people are living in temporary shelters.

The damage is estimated at between $190 and $295 billion according to the Japanese government.   Longer-term damage from the nuclear spill will be an additional cost and Japan is now facing a severe energy shortage.

Indonesia, as the world’s third-biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas, reaffirmed it would increase gas exports to Japan and the nation’s coal industry has said it would be ready to do the same at Japan’s request.

Ministers of the10 Asean-member nations pledged their support for Japan on Saturday, acknowledging the need for greater regional support in disaster management.

Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister Marty Natalegawa said he was pleased Asean-member countries could reciprocate support for Japan in its time of need. "All of us recognize that in the past Japan has been extremely effective, extremely generous in responding to disasters whenever they occur in our region in Southeast Asia," he said.

As a number of Southeast Asian nations plan to build nuclear plants to secure domestic energy supply, Japan has pledged to share its lessons learned with the region.

VOA originally identified the Japanese foreign ministry spokesman as Saturo Satoh.  The correct name is Satoru Satoh, which has been changed in the text. VOA regrets the error.

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