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Import ban on Japanese seafood has loopholes: lawmakersBy Son Ji-hyoung
Published : Oct. 12, 2023 - 16:14
Imports of processed Japanese seafood and rice from regions near the disposal of the treated wastewater from the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant to Korea are being overlooked, opposition lawmakers said Thursday, as Seoul only bans fresh seafood from the affected regions.
Koreans could still unknowingly consume processed seafood from Fukushima and seven other nearby prefectures, as such products do not fall under the ban on fresh seafood from those areas, and are not labeled what prefecture they are from, said Democratic Party of Korea Rep. Yoon Joon-byeong.
A total of 334 metric tons of processed seafood from the eight Japanese prefectures have been imported into Korea from 2018 until July this year, and over 80 percent of them originated from Fukushima prefecture, according to Yoon, who obtained the data from the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety.
The processed seafood include canned mackerel, dried edible seaweed known as miyeok in Korean, as well as herring roe used to make sushi here.
The lawmakers argued there could be potential health risks due to the food's exposure to the treated wastewater that Japan started discharging into the sea from late August.
A Korean consumer can also purchase these goods online from the eight affected prefectures, including a means of direct foreign purchase also known as "jikgu." The same was true for white rice from Miyagi prefecture, according to Yoon.
"There is no specific import control guideline regarding processed Japanese seafoods from eight prefectures (where Seoul's seafood import ban is in place), and processed seafoods that Korean consumers purchased through jikgu avert the inspection," Yoon said in a statement.
Korea bans imports of Japanese seafood from Aomori, Chiba, Fukushima, Gunma, Iwate, Ibaraki, Miyagi and Tochigi. The ban has been in effect since September 2013, two years after a tsunami wrecked a nuclear power plant in eastern Japan and leakage of nuclear-contaminated water ensued. After a lengthy dispute between Seoul and Tokyo, a 2019 decision by the World Trade Organization gave Seoul an upper hand over its seafood import ban.
Seafood from the rest of the 39 Japanese administrative divisions are sampled for safety inspection. Over 30,000 tons of fresh seafood from Japan were imported annually over the past three years, according to the Fisheries Ministry.
Yoon added that country-of-origin labels on these processed products do not specify which Japanese prefecture their raw material came from.
This might have caused "some South Koreans to not knowingly consume seafood from Fukushima," Yoon said, calling on the government to "take proper actions to seal loopholes" while assuring the public of the safety of seafood consumed here.
When asked to comment about this matter during the parliamentary audit Thursday, Fisheries Minister Cho Seung-hwan said direct purchases in small quantities "should be seen as a matter of individuals" and that indicating a prefecture of origin on the product labeling is "nearly impossible in reality."
This comes as radioactive nuclides above safety standards have been detected on the screening stage before entering the Korean market since the Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown in 2011.
Rep. Wi Seong-gon of the Democratic Party, citing official data, also said Thursday that a combined 77.1 tons of food could not pass the safety inspection since 2014, and these include seafood from Japanese prefectures whose imported food is not subject to Seoul's import restrictions.
Wi said given that all-out inspections are not being carried out and only three types of nuclides can be detected through the food safety inspection, Seoul's current measures to safeguard against the radioactivity threat from Japan "obviously has limitations."
Rep. Yang Ki-dae of the Democratic Party on Thursday asked the government to prevent Korean fish sellers from fabricating Japanese marine produce's country of origin, saying there were six instances solely in September.
Seoul has insisted that there have been no detectable levels of radioactivity in the imported Japanese seafood since Fukushima's power plant began releasing water. But on Thursday's statement over the seafood safety in the wake of the Fukushima water release, Seoul did not elaborate on the safety concerns raised by the opposition lawmakers.
Meanwhile, opposition lawmakers took issue with the seawater off the Japanese coast that might have been carried by vehicles designed to store fresh seafood and dumped upon arrival at Korea.
Lawmakers on Wednesday claimed potentially contaminated seawater are entering Korean ports.
Rep. Eoh Kiy-ku of the Democratic Party estimated that 17,000 tons of seawater in such vehicles from eight prefectures including Fukushima was dumped inside the seawater treatment facility in a Busan sea port. in 2022, up over 40 percent compared to the previous year. Also, less than 1 in 4 of these vehicles have had its seawater inspected when entering South Korean sea ports in the past five years until August, according to another main opposition lawmaker Rep. Yoon Jae-kab.
The inspection on the vehicles carrying seawater from nearby the Fukushima power plant has become more stringent since Japan started releasing radioactive water in August, and no radioactivity has since been detected from such water, according to Choi Yong-seok, head of fishery resources policy bureau at the Fisheries Ministry, in a briefing Wednesday.
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