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Food safety and security in Fukushima, Japan- 13 years after


A Japanese dish of sashimi
Food Safety and Security

Thirteen years after the Fukushima nuclear accident, life in Japan and particularly Soma city in Fukushima has returned to level of normalcy, even for food production and consumption.


Prior to the 2011 incident, Japan standards for the limits for radioactive in water and vegetables were set to 300 Bq/kg and 2,000 Bq/kg, respectively. Meanwhile, the limit for radioactive cesium was set to 200 Bq/kg for drinking water, milk and dairy products, and 500 Bq/kg for vegetables, cereals, meat, and fish. Today, this standard is even stricture with the limits of radioactive cesium in daily food in general set at 100, 50 and 10 Bq/kg for milk, infant food and drinking water.


Visiting Fukushima 13 years Later

Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) and Japan Food Product Overseas Promotion Center (JFOODO) invited me to visit the Tohoku region in February 2024 to explore how food sustainability and food consumption is safe in the Fukushima region and more so within wider Japan.


A visit to Soma city in Fukushima was very reflective for me, as I was residing in Kobe city, Kansai region in 2011 when the great 9.0-magnitude earthquake hit and triggered several tsunamis. Although not directly in that city, I remember numerous media houses locally and internationally flooded the airwaves with so much news about safety and security in the Fukushima region and what it meant for persons living in Japan at that time.


Now 13 years later, I was given the opportunity to explore the fishing city of Soma and the Fukushima region. This not only brought ideas of hope for the region but is also provided a systemic understanding of how Japan is on a drive to ensure food security and safe for consumption habit not only for the residents of this area but also to tourists alike.


To ensure food safety and health of the residents, the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare (MHLW) of Japan imposed radionuclide activity limits on food at the beginning of the Fukushima nuclear accident. Since then, relevant departments have improved emergency measures and methods, acquired monitoring data, and accumulated experience for similar accidents. Using a series of emergency plans after the Fukushima nuclear accident, Japan have modified food monitoring methods and standards to be more rigorous and precautious in their food safety standards after the Fukushima nuclear accident. As a result of these procedures, it has helped increase information transparency and improve the capabilities to respond to similar accidents in the future. These measures also provide experience for other countries to deal with nuclear accidents and to improve their standards on radioactivity in food.


How Japan is Building Confidence in Food Safety in Fukushima

One of the main challenges for Japan to ensure food security in the Fukushima region is to restore consumer confidence and dispel the stigma associated with the products from the area. To achieve this, Japan has implemented a comprehensive system of food inspection, labeling, and certification that verifies the safety and quality of the food produced in the region. The system involves testing all food items for radioactive contamination before they enter the market and displaying the results on labels or online platforms. Additionally, Japan has established a certification scheme for agricultural and fishery products from the Fukushima region, which guarantees that they meet the strictest standards of safety and quality.


Another challenge for Japan is to support the recovery and development of the local food industry, which was severely affected by the nuclear accident. Japan has provided financial and technical assistance to the farmers and fishermen in the region, as well as promoted their products through various marketing campaigns. For example, Japan has organized trade fairs, exhibitions, and tasting events to highlight the food from the Fukushima region to domestic and international buyers. Japan has also invited foreign journalists, diplomats, and celebrities to visit the region and experience the food culture firsthand. These efforts aim to increase the awareness and appreciation of the food from the Fukushima region, and to boost its demand and reputation such as this JFOODO culinary tour which I participated in.


Furthermore, Japan has invested in research and innovation to enhance the resilience and sustainability of the food system in the Fukushima region. Japan has developed modern technologies and methods to monitor, decontaminate, and reduce the impact of radioactivity on the environment and food production. For example, at the testing facility in Matsukawaura Fishing Port, daily several samples of seafood are tested.


Japan has also introduced new varieties and practices of crops and livestock that are more adaptable and productive in the region. Moreover, Japan has encouraged the diversification and value addition of the food products from the region, such as processed foods, organic foods, and specialty foods. These initiatives aim to improve the efficiency and profitability of the food sector in the region, and to create new opportunities and markets for the producers.


In conclusion, Japan has made considerable progress in improving food security in the Fukushima region after the March 2011 earthquake and nuclear accident. Japan has implemented a rigorous and transparent system of food safety and quality assurance, supported the recovery and development of the local food industry, and invested in research and innovation to enhance the resilience and sustainability of the food system. These measures have not only ensured the health and well-being of the residents and tourists in the region, but also contributed to the global efforts to address the challenges of food security and safety.

 

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