Japanese Food Imports Monitored by MAF Following Earthquake

(PR.co.nz) MAF has been closely monitoring the emergency situation in Japan following the destructive 11 March earthquake to ensure food imports from Japan to New Zealand are safe and suitable.

MAF shares concerns about the potential for contamination of foods with radioactive material discharged from nuclear reactors damaged in the earthquake. MAF’s first priority is the safety of foods being imported into New Zealand, and is working to make sure that New Zealanders are not put at risk.

New Zealand has a systematic process in place, in cooperation with importers, to monitor imported food from Japan. MAF is working with New Zealand Customs Service to identify any potentially contaminated foods. To date, MAF has not identified any food imports from Japan that present a risk to New Zealanders’ health.

MAF will continue to work with our international counterparts and the National Radiation Laboratory, which has expertise in testing food stuffs for radioactivity. Expert advice to date is that the risk to human health is low.

Japan is primarily a food importer – not a food exporter – and it is unlikely much fresh produce will be headed anywhere given reported food shortages in the country. The affected area of Japan is also not a major food production area, and certainly not a major food exporting region. Furthermore, Japanese officials have said that foods from the affected area will not be for sale as exported goods.

What measures are MAF taking?

MAF is working closely with Japanese officials to understand what export controls are being applied to further minimise the risk of contaminated products entering international trade.

MAF will assess import consignments to identify any that may be from the affected regions. Any food that is identified as potentially at risk will be tested. Foods will be held (not allowed to be sold) pending the outcome of testing.

As well as the measures in place in Japan and the extensive monitoring network reducing the risk, New Zealand imports very little food from Japan, and has historically not imported much meat and meat products, milk and milk products or fresh fruit and vegetables from Japan. Imports are limited to a small range of specialty products (such as small volumes of seaweed and sake as well as other Japanese specialty food products such as mirin, soy sauce, dried noodles, pickled ginger, wasabi).

As a precautionary measure MAF is working with importers of food from Japan to ensure that products are assessed and targeted products will be tested. Importers are cooperating on this matter.

Specific foods of interest that may have been sourced from the five Japanese prefectures of Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Chiba and Gunma after the events of 11 March include:

milk and other dairy products
meat and offal of mammals and poultry
seafood and fish – fresh and frozen
fresh fruit and vegetables
processed fruit and root vegetable products.

New Zealand is a member of the International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN) a joint initiative between the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization. As such MAF receives daily updates on the situation. We also receive daily reports from the United Nations Internal Atomic Energy Agency. Any new information received is examined and discussed with importers to ensure that the response here is appropriate.

The process of monitoring and – where potential risks are identified – testing, is the same approach as that being taken by other countries. Our assessment and targeted testing activity will complement our work with international food safety agencies and importers to monitor the situation.

Media Release 14 April 2011 from NZ Food Safety Authority.