The government said Wednesday it would introduce stricter inspections of food imports, following a lawmaker’s report that elevated levels of radioactive isotopes were detected in food products from Fukushima over the past five years.
Rep. Kim Kwang-soo, who serves on the National Assembly’s Health and Welfare Committee, said Monday that 16.8 metric tons of Japanese processed food imported between 2014 and the first half of this year were found to have contained levels of radioactivity beyond the legal limit, calling for expanded safety checks.
The food products were not allowed through for distribution, according to the Food and Drug Safety Ministry.
Citing data from the Food Safety Ministry, the minor opposition Party for Democracy and Peace lawmaker said Korea imported 29,985 tons, or 16,075 shipments, of food products from Japan’s Fukushima region in the five-year period.
The director-general of the Food Safety Ministry’s imported food safety policy bureau, Lee Seung-yong, speaks during a press briefing Wednesday morning at the Seoul Government Complex. (Food Safety Ministry)
Kim argued that increased safety standards should be applied to processed food from Fukushima, referring to a recent World Trade Organization ruling that backed Korea’s radiation testing requirements for Japanese seafood.
Kim pointed out that while Korea has restricted imports of seafood from eight prefectures of Fukushima and certain agricultural products from the region since the 2011 meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, the restrictions did not extend to processed food.
In response, the Food Safety Ministry clarified in a press briefing Wednesday morning that the ministry runs monitoring programs to keep food with harmful levels of radiation out of the domestic market.
Lee Seung-yong, director of the ministry’s imported food safety policy bureau, said the ministry conducts food sample testing “per food safety codes by Codex Alimentarius,” a United Nations body on food trade, including those from the area of concern.
Addressing concerns about radiation safety risks raised by the lawmaker, Lee promised to “double radiation checks on food imports when even a miniscule level of radiation, as little as 1 becquerel per kilogram, is detected in the item.”
The 17 items to be subjected to closer monitoring are those that have a history of higher than usual radioactivity being detected, the ministry said. The measures will come into effect starting Friday and will continue for a trial period of three months.
Lee added the ministry’s imported food inspection bureau requires additional radiation test results for imported food products found to contain levels of radiation exceeding government standards. Products that fail to submit required test certificates are to be returned to the country of origin.
By Kim Arin (firstname.lastname@example.org