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Munchies

Hong Kong Still Won't Lift Ban on Food from Fukushima

Seven years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Japan is struggling to convince the world that its fish and produce is safe to eat.

by Mayukh Sen
Mar 28 2018, 2:25pm

Photo via Flickr user Arian Zwegers

Though it’s been seven years since Japan's 9.1-magnitude earthquake, tsunami, and resulting Fukushima nuclear meltdown, the disaster’s effects linger to this day—even outside of Japan. In the catastrophe's immediate aftermath, countries across the world placed wholesale bans on imports of fish and produce from Fukushima and its neighboring prefectures, guided by concerns that radioactive materials had infected the food supply.

Japan has insisted it's been unable to find harmful levels of radioactive material in seafood since 2015, and some territories have been retooling their initial bans accordingly. This past Friday, Russia finally lifted its ban on seafood from Fukushima and six other prefectures. Earlier this month, Thailand received its first shipment of seafood from Fukushima since March 2011 (though this move was met with considerable backlash from restaurants and activist groups alike). The European Union relaxed its ban on some rice and seafood from Fukushima and neighboring areas in December.

But Hong Kong is considerably more hesitant to lift the ban it placed upon fruits, vegetables, and seafood from Fukushima and four neighboring prefectures. As the South China Morning Post reported on Monday, diplomatic tensions between Hong Kong and Japan came to a head this past weekend when Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono paid a visit to Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor. (Notably, this was the first formal visit from a Japanese minister to Hong Kong since 1997, when the territory was absorbed back into China.)

During the talks, Lam made clear that Hong Kong had no plans to forfeit its ban on these foods from Fukushima and the prefectures in its immediate vicinity. Though Kono had maintained that Fukushima's produce and seafood is just fine, Lam wasn’t quite convinced.

Per a statement issued by her press office to the South China Morning Post, Lam “emphasized that it is incumbent upon the [government] to safeguard public health and hence effective measures must be in place to ensure food safety and to maintain public confidence.” (Neither Lam nor Kono’s press offices nor returned a request for comment from MUNCHIES on Tuesday.)

If we're talking recent history, Japan's been fighting a real uphill battle since the Fukushima tragedy in trying to convince the world that its food is safe for human consumption. Mainland China has, according to Nikkei, banned food imports altogether from ten prefectures within Japan. South Korea has imposed a similar ban on seafood from eight prefectures, though the World Trade Organization found these measures too restrictive in a ruling last month.

This past weekend, Masao Uchibori, current governor of Fukushima Prefecture, embarked on a tour of the European Union to quell any anxiety about food from the country, feeding foreign ministers peaches and sake from Fukushima.

Such diplomatic gestures are part of a larger, more concerted damage control campaign mounted by the Japanese government regarding Fukushima's food supply. After all, the country has numerous financial concerns at stake—Hong Kong, as the South China Morning Post notes, is the largest recipient of seafood coming out of Japan, making Japan’s need to repair this node especially vital.