TOKYO - Singapore is keeping in place curbs on food imports from Fukushima, which six years ago on Saturday (March 11) was hit by an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) has told The Straits Times.
This is despite the authority having announced a review on easing curbs in January last year, and Japan's repeated insistence that its strict food safety standards already exceed international requirements.
Japan's reconstruction minister Masahiro Imamura had said last month that it was "irrational" to restrict the import of Japanese food products that are sold on the market, lobbying countries and regions to lift their food bans on imports from the disaster-hit regions.
On March 11, 2011, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck under the Pacific Ocean at 2.46pm local time (1.46pm in Singapore), triggering a 10m wall of water that ravaged the north-east Japanese coast. It crippled the Fukushima No. 1 power station, causing meltdowns in three of its reactors.
The AVA did not explicitly address the reasons it has opted to retain the curbs, but a spokesman told The Straits Times on Saturday that the authority "periodically reviews food import conditions to ensure food safety for our consumers, without unnecessarily impeding trade".
Last year's review came as Agriculture Minister Hiroshi Moriyama requested Singapore ease its restrictions during a meeting with National Development Minister Lawrence Wong. During their talks, Mr Moriyama noted that the European Union had begun to relax its regulations on Japanese food imports.
The AVA banned the import of some food products from 11 prefectures after the incident, but some of these restrictions were lifted in 2014, after "an inspection and comprehensive risk assessment of food from Japan".
However, curbs on seafood and other produce from several areas remain in place.
Singapore does not allow the import of seafood, agricultural produce and forest products - including wild berries, wild mushrooms and wild boar meat - from areas in Fukushima prefecture where agriculture remains banned, or within a 20km radius of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Meanwhile, seafood and forest-gathered or harvested products from prefectures neighbouring Fukushima - namely Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma - still require pre-export tests, the AVA added.
"All food products from Japan still require a certificate of origin to identify the prefecture of origin of the food product," the AVA spokesman said on Saturday, adding that it will continue to closely monitor food imports from Japan to ensure that they comply with Singapore's food safety requirements.
She added that current imports from Fukushima prefecture are "insignificant" and accounted for less than 0.1 per cent of total food imports worldwide last year.
Mr Imamura had said last month that 21 countries have lifted the bans while many countries and regions have "significantly relaxed" the restrictions.
He told a news conference: "Japan carries out an inspection of radioactive substances according to the world's strictest level of standard limits based on scientific evidence. Only foods that have passed the inspection are circulated on the market. Of course, exported foods are subject to the same strict inspection process."
But the easing of food import curbs from Fukushima remains a deeply political issue in several territories. In Taiwan, a public hearing over whether the territory should ease its ban last December was scuppered by rioting.
Mr Imamura stressed that Japanese standards, which specify general foods containing radioactive substances of 100 becquerel (Bq) or higher per 1 kg should not be sold, "are extremely strict compared to those in the European Union or the United States, or the international Codex standard".
He said: "Last year, no rice, vegetables and fruits, livestock products, cultivated mushrooms, or seafood products grown in Fukushima prefecture were detected to have exceeded standard limits."
He added that inspections on rice grown in Fukushima prefecture are done for "all bags of rice, not only samples", and that in 2015 and 2016, no bags of rice exceeded the standard limit.
As for seafood, no items have exceeded the standard limits since April 2015, he said.
"It is irrational to restrict the import of Japanese food products that are sold on the market, which have passed very strict inspection," he said. "We would like the authorities in each country and region to see these scientific and objective facts."