Taipei, Nov. 3 (CNA) A Council of Agriculture (COA) official and a former Taipei mayor argued the merits Saturday of lifting a ban on imports of food from parts of Japan affected by a nuclear plant disaster in March 2011 ahead of a referendum on the issue later this month.
The two separately argued their positions on the issue in prepared presentations, with COA deputy chief Chen Chi-chung (陳吉仲) saying Taiwan's inspection rules for food imports would keep the public safe if the ban were lifted.
But former Taipei mayor and opposition Kuomintang (KMT) Vice Chairman Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌), who proposed the referendum, said the radioactive substances that still exist in the affected areas in Japan pose a potential threat to consumers and Taiwan's food safety.
The referendum question, one of 10 up for a vote on Nov. 24, will ask voters: "Do you agree the government should maintain the ban on imports of agricultural products and food from areas in Japan affected by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster on March 11, 2011, including Fukushima, Ibaraki, Gunma, Tochigi and Chiba prefectures?"
In arguing the government's position that the ban should be lifted, Chen said Taiwan has embraced stricter standards than other countries for inspecting food items that could be contaminated by radioactive substances.
The inspection process in Taiwan is transparent, meaning that the government can assure the public that Japanese food allowed to be put on store shelves is 100 percent safe, he said.
Hau argued that the radiation leaks from the Fukushima power plant has damaged the soil, water and the general environment in the area, and if radionuclides such as cesium and strontium affect fish or other agricultural items in Japan, the impact will be felt for a long time.
Once people in Taiwan consume these tainted food items, Hau said, it will be like ingesting poison, in effect posing a risk to food safety in Taiwan.
In particular, Hau said, Taiwan is geographically close to Japan and Taiwanese like to eat Japanese food, meaning the government should have a zero tolerance policy for food safety and continue to ban food and agricultural product imports from the radiation-affected areas.
Taiwan imposed the ban on food imports from Fukushima, Ibaraki, Gunma, Tochigi and Chiba prefectures on March 25, 2011, two weeks after the Fukushima nuclear power plant was battered by a major earthquake and tsunami.
It soon suffered a nuclear meltdown that led to large amounts of radioactive substances being spewed into the environment.
Hau said the public has the right to be free of potential scares from eating contaminated Japanese food resulting from the nuclear disaster.
Chen argued, however, that many countries such as the United States, Singapore and South Korea and countries in Europe have opted to closely monitor high contamination risks related to food imports from Japan rather than continuing to impose a complete ban.
In other words, those countries allow the sale of foods from the radiation-affected areas in Japan if they are determined to be safe through inspections, the official said.
According to Chen, Taiwan and China are the only countries in the world to maintain a complete ban on foods from these parts of Japan, and he said Taiwan should adopt pragmatic measures on the issue.
The Democratic Progressive Party government, which has traditionally had close ties with Japan, has tried to lift the ban since taking power in May 2016 but has yet to succeed because of popular resistance.