EU steps up import controls on food from Japan again

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Related tags: European union

The European Union has further strengthened import controls on food from Japan in the wake of the nuclear disaster triggered by the devastating tsunami last month.

Brussels announced Friday that it had lowered the acceptable maximum levels of certain radioactive elements in food and feed; namely iodine-131, caesium-134 and caesium-137.

Officials said the measure was a precautionary one and had been adopted to match new lower acceptable levels introduced by Japanese authorities.

The situation could also prompt a summer overhaul by EU experts over maximum radiation levels in food first set 24 years ago after the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe.


The move follows the European Commission declaration on 25 March that food and feed imports from 12 Japanese prefectures would have to be accompanied with safety certificates and be subject to random testing at EU borders. An early warning system also requires importers to give competent authorities in the bloc two days notice of a consignment’s arrival.

The updated measure, backed by member states on the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCoFCAH), will apply to foodstuffs originating in – or transported from – those 12 Japanese areas. All products from these prefectures are to be tested before leaving Japan and are subject to a reinforced testing regime in the EU.

Shipments from the remaining 35 prefectures have to be accompanied by a declaration indicating the prefecture of origin, before being randomly tested upon arrival in the EU.

The EC stressed that the “precautionary nature”​ of the boosted regulation and said notes “all the checks carried out up to now by Member States of Japanese food imports demonstrate negligible levels of radio-activity, which are significantly below existing standards”.

It added that Japanese authorities had confirmed food exports from the 12 prefectures into the bloc had all but ceased following the disaster.

Higher than 10 per cent

Until now, Japanese food imports were obliged to comply with universally applicable levels set in the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1987 under various Euratom regulations – covering infant food, dairy products, as well as general, liquid and so-called ‘minor’ foodstuffs.

These limits are based on the assumption that, if 10 per cent of the food consumption of a person over a full year were contaminated at these levels, annual exposure to ionising radiation would not exceed the additional annual dose limit for a human being of 1 mSv (milliSievert).

Japan, however, has recently imposed lower values for food on the domestic market.

The EU said it had followed suit because: “It has to be considered that in the current situation in Japan, a much higher percentage (than the 10 % on which the EU levels are based upon) of the population's daily diet could be contaminated with significant levels of radio-nuclides”.

It will also provide consistency between the pre-export controls performed by the Japanese authorities and EU tests on the level of radio nuclides entering the region.

Radiation level change?

The EC said the measures would be reviewed on a monthly basis but that controls could be toughened further within 48 hours if necessary.

It confirmed that its experts would be meeting before 30 June, 2011 to decide if the maximum levels set out in Regulation (Euratom) 3954/1987 needed to be revised.

Related topics: Policy

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