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Asian governments test Japanese food for radiation

SINGAPORE, March 14, 2011 (AFP) – Several Asian governments said Monday they would screen food imported from Japan for radiation after one of the country’s nuclear power plants was damaged by a massive earthquake and tsunami.

Hong Kong, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Taiwan said they would take precautionary measures after two explosions at the ageing Fukushima plant 250 kilometers (160 miles) northeast of Tokyo.

“As far as radiation is concerned, I think the most at-risk articles are those fresh products, perhaps dairy products, fresh fruits and vegetables,” Hong Kong’s Secretary for Food and Health York Chow told reporters.

He said authorities in the southern Chinese territory were “monitoring the situation and also doing the checking at the importation venues to ascertain that they have not been affected”.

“In case we detect anything, of course we will ban those products from Hong Kong.”

Singapore’s food regulator said: “As a precautionary measure, AVA (the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore) will monitor Japanese produce based on source and potential risk of contamination.

“Samples will be taken for testing for radiation. Fresh produce will have priority. AVA will continue to closely monitor the situation and its developments,” it said in a statement.

AVA said the bulk of Japanese imports arrive by sea, but Japanese restaurants in Singapore routinely use air freight to fly in produce such as raw fish – integral to sushi and sashimi – to ensure its freshness and quality.

Government figures showed Singapore’s imports from Japan totaled Sg$33.3 billion ($26.2 billion) last year.

Malaysian health authorities said they were taking “precautionary measures” and were closely monitoring food imports from Japan to ensure they were free of contamination.

Health Minister Liow Tiong Lai said Malaysia imports about 48,500 tonnes of food from Japan every year, including fish, fruits and cereal products.

Taiwan’s Food and Drug Administration also said it would test food from Japan for radiation.

In the Philippines, a spokeswoman for President Benigno Aquino said the Department of Health was looking at screening products from Japan.

“We have a mechanism in place when something like this happens,” Abigail Valte told reporters.

Thailand’s public health ministry said it was not yet checking food imports from Japan, but was “monitoring the situation closely”.

Japan’s nuclear safety agency has ruled out the possibility of a Chernobyl-style accident at the damaged nuclear plant, according to national strategy minister Koichiro Genba.

But a US aircraft carrier and other ships deployed for relief efforts in the wake of Friday’s quake and tsunami shifted their position after detecting low-level radiation from the malfunctioning plant.

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