Australia halts Japanese food imports

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) says its move to ban food imports from four prefectures around the stricken Fukushima plant follows Japanese government restrictions on some products.

The Government says the risk to Australian consumers is negligible, because only seaweed and seafood are currently imported from Japan.

But the holding order also covers other foods such as milk and milk products, fresh fruit and vegetables.

The affected prefectures include Fukushima, Gunma, Ibaraki and Tochigi.

The ban follows similar restrictions placed on Japan by the US, Canada, Hong Kong and the UK.

Japanese authorities have been struggling to control the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima plant since an earthquake and tsunami struck almost two weeks ago.

The plant’s reactors were severely damaged and smoke has been seen rising from reactors, prompting evacuations.

Attempts to stabilise the nuclear plant have again been disrupted after black smoke started escaping from the roof of one of the reactors.

The plant operator does not know what caused the smoke to flow from the reactor, forcing all workers to be immediately evacuated.

The UN atomic agency said there had been some positive developments at the plant but the overall situation remained serious.

The plant was battered by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that left 23,000 people dead or missing.

Tokyo residents have been warned not to give babies tap water because of radiation leaking from the Fukushima plant.

Japan’s chief cabinet secretary urged consumers to remain calm and said there was no need to stock up on bottled water.

Tokyo authorities said yesterday that water at a purification plant for the capital of 13 million people had 210 becquerels of radioactive iodine, more than twice the safety level for infants.

City governor Shintaro Ishihara said that level posed no immediate risk, “but, for infants under age one, I would like them to refrain from using tap water to dilute baby formula”.

Despite authorities telling residents not to panic, one woman says: “It is frightening and I am concerned. They’re talking about radiation levels 100 times higher than normal in food and that it builds up in your body the more you eat.”

Yesterday, the prime minister suspended sales of several types of vegetables from areas near Fukushima because of contamination fear.

Japan’s struggling fishing industry is also facing a crisis as high radiation levels are found in the Pacific Ocean off the plant site.

Elevated amounts of five kinds of radioactive material have been detected and one reading suggests radioactive iodine-131 levels in seawater are 127 times the permitted level.

The full impact on fish species is still not clear.

Turnover at Tokyo’s Tsukiji market – the world’s biggest fish market – is down 30 per cent on this time last year, with the market receiving less tuna, mackerel and other fish because none are being caught by fishing communities obliterated by the tsunami. ABC