TOKYO (AFP) - Japan is to restart exports of rice grown in Fukushima for the first time since foreign sales were halted due to fears of contamination by the nuclear disaster there, officials said on Tuesday.
The National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations (Zen-Noh), a major wholesaler of Japanese agricultural products, said it will send 300kg of the grain to Singapore. Its provenance will be marked and it will not be mixed with other produce, an official said. The rice was grown some 60km to 80km west of the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, he said.
It will be the first time rice grown in Fukushima prefecture - which hosts the battered Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant - has been sold abroad since fiscal 2012, when the region exported 17 tonnes to Hong Kong, a Fukushima official said.
"Despite our efforts at explaining the safety of Fukushima-made farm products, up until now we have not been able to find retailers who wished to trade rice grown in Fukushima," said an official for Zen-Noh. "From now on, we aim to export more Fukushima rice, including to Singapore."
Fukushima was a key agricultural area before the 2011 disaster, when a huge tsunami swamped reactors and sparked meltdowns, sending out plumes of radioactive material.
Thousands of people were evacuated and huge tracts of land were rendered unfarmable.
The accident has left the Fukushima brand contaminated both domestically and internationally. Despite government assurances it is safe, farmers who till fields many kilometres from the plant have struggled to find buyers for their produce.
Local officials say rigorous testing proves there is no risk from consuming rice grown in Fukushima prefecture, an area that stretches way beyond the plant and its environs.
"All rice grown in Fukushima is being checked for radioactivity before being shipped to the market," another Fukushima official said.
"Our rice is proved to have passed the government safety standard of 100 becquerels per kilogram (a measure of radioactive contamination), and is mostly below detection levels" of measuring instruments, he said.
Before the disaster, more than 100 tonnes of Fukushima-grown rice, peaches and apples were being sold abroad a year, chiefly in Hong Kong and Taiwan, the official said.
In 2012, export of peaches and apples to Thailand resumed, and last year exports of the fruits to Malaysia resumed, he said.