EUROPE – The European Commission has announced the lifting of import restrictions for food from Japan, which were imposed following the Fukushima nuclear power station accident in 2011.

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the EU Commission, stated that this decision was made based on rigorous scientific evidence and assessments by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The Japanese government warmly welcomed this development, having previously urged the EU and its member states on several occasions to lift the measures that were implemented in the aftermath of the incident.

Since the restrictions were put in place, the EU Commission has been regularly reviewing and easing import measures as the risks associated with the Fukushima incident gradually declined.

As of the last review in September 2021, pre-export testing restrictions were limited to only wild mushrooms, select fish species, and wild edible plants.

Remarkably, there have been no non-compliances with the maximum radionuclide levels set in regulations observed in imports from Japan since June 2011. This positive outcome is attributed to the effective control systems and stringent checks implemented by Japanese authorities.

However, the EU Commission will continue to monitor radionuclide levels in food and feed from Japan to ensure consumer safety remains paramount.

Stella Kyriakides, EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, commended the collaborative efforts of Japanese partners and EU experts, affirming that the favorable control results in recent years have made the relaxation of restrictions possible.

In June 2022, England, Scotland, and Wales had already removed import restrictions after thorough assessments by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Food Standards Scotland (FSS).

Treated water release raises concerns

Despite this promising development, concerns remain over Japan’s plans to release treated water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station into the sea.

An IAEA review found the plans to be in line with safety standards, assuring that the radiological impact on people and the environment would be negligible.

The water has been treated through the Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS), effectively removing all radioactivity except tritium, which will be diluted to meet regulatory standards before discharge.

However, Hong Kong has expressed reservations and intends to ban the import of aquatic products from ten specific areas in Japan once the discharge plan is enacted.

China has also taken similar action, citing potential risks to food safety and public health. They raise concerns over the continuous and long-term effectiveness of the purification system after the discharge commences.

In response, Japan has urged a dozen countries and regions, including Hong Kong and China, to remove their import measures in a communication to the World Trade Organization’s Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures.

Japan has also provided updates on its water discharge situation to address concerns and assure safety standards.

The EU’s decision to lift import restrictions serves as a testament to the resilience and dedication of Japanese authorities in managing the Fukushima incident’s aftermath.

By upholding rigorous scientific standards and cooperating transparently with international partners, Japan has taken significant strides towards reassuring the global community about the safety of its food exports.

However, as the treated water release approaches, it remains essential for all stakeholders to remain vigilant in ensuring public safety and environmental protection.

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