'Nuclear food referendum': Taiwan's softening of Fukushima ban under threat amid ballot calls

By Pearly Neo contact

- Last updated on GMT

The allout from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster saw the then-Taiwanese government place a ban on all products from Fukushima and its nearby areas Ibaraki, Gunma, Tochigi, and Chiba. ©Getty Images
The allout from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster saw the then-Taiwanese government place a ban on all products from Fukushima and its nearby areas Ibaraki, Gunma, Tochigi, and Chiba. ©Getty Images

Related tags: Taiwan, Food ban, Japan, Referendum

Japan's hopes that the Taiwan government will lift the current ban on foods from Fukushima and surrounding areas has hit another hurdle after Kuomintang, the largest opposition party in Taiwan, submitted a referendum request on what has been dubbed 'anti-nuclear food'.

So far, this ‘anti-nuclear food’ referendum suggestion has not been officially accepted by the Taiwanese government. However, the party claims to have successfully collected over 470,000 signatures in support of it.

As only 280,000 signatures are required to legally hold a referendum, this places substantial pressure on the government. If the turnout reaches the required 25%, its results will be considered legal.

The Taiwan government has shown a recent softening in stance​ to the Japan food ban.

“It is time to reassess Taiwan’s policy on Japanese food imports. The government might follow the US and adopt risk-based restrictions, instead of the current regionally based ban,”​ said Taiwan Health and Welfare Minister Chen Shih-chung earlier this year.

There must be a differentiation between “Japanese foods” and “radiation-tainted foods,” he added.

As such, a positive result from this referendum would put them in a difficult spot with Japan if abided by.

Only Taiwan and China maintain a comprehensive ban on these food imports.

The referendum submission was done in conjunction with the submission of Kuomintang’s “anti-air pollution’ and ‘anti-Shenao power plant’ referendums.

A separate government spokesman has also urged the public to “leave politics out of this issue”​.

Ban on products

The allout from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster saw the then-Taiwanese government place a ban on all products from Fukushima and its nearby areas Ibaraki, Gunma, Tochigi, and Chiba.

Although Japan radiation checks showed Fukushima rice passing requirements for the first time since the nuclear crisis, Taiwan was firm about maintaining the ban even though Japan threatened to bring the matter to the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

This was even more strongly enforced after hundreds of food products from the Japanese areas included in the ban were discovered in Taiwanese supermarkets, labelled as being from other prefectures.

Taiwan issued a requirement for all Japanese food imports to have certificates of origin. Some required additional radiation inspection certificates.

At the time, Taiwan was Japan’s third-largest export market for food and agricultural products.

In 2016, the new government proposed maintaining the ban for Fukushima products only, but to allow foodstuff in from the other prefectures if they passed inspection.

However, due to mismanagement over public hearings regarding the matter which led to public disruptions, this did not pass muster.

After more products from the five prefectures were found to have made their way to store shelves later that year, the FDA took further action.

According to Taiwan News​, Chiu Hsiu-yi, Director of the FDA's Northern Centre for Regional Administration said the FDA would “step up inspection of food imported from Japan and will ask importers and distributors to list the place of origin, including the prefecture, on the product label in Chinese”.

The ban in other countries

In 2017, the WTO ruled in favour of Japan after it brought forth complaints about South Korea’s

“[This] may be the impetus needed to restart effort to lift the ban in Taiwan,”​ reported SeafoodSource.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong announced relaxation of the ban on products from Ibaraki, Gunma, Tochigi, and Chiba in July this year.

This included fresh produce and dairy products. The ban on products from Fukushima remained in place.

“We are very grateful that there has been a relaxation on the restrictions on imports,”​ said Japan Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Ken Saito.

He added that Hong Kong currently comprises roughly a quarter of all Japanese exports, making it Japan’s largest export market.

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