Philippines tests Japanese food for radiation

Posted at 03/14/11 8:25 PM

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) - Several Asian governments including the Philippines said Monday they would screen food imported from Japan for radiation after one of the country's nuclear power plants was damaged by a massive earthquake and tsunami.

Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office Secretary Ricky Carandang said President Aquino met with the heads of the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute, Department of Science and Technology, Department of Health, Department of Budget and Management, National Security Council, Presidential Management Staff and the Office of the Executive Secretary to make sure that the Philippines would be safe from any possible effects of the nuclear crisis in Japan.

“Just as a precaution, imports from Japan, mostly foodstuffs, will be checked for levels of radiation,” Carandang told reporters after the meeting in Malacañang.

The PNRI will be in charge of the tests because the Department of Agriculture checks agricultural products while the DOH is in charge of processed food.

“I’m not sure how quickly they can get it done but at the soonest possible time,” Carandang said.

But Carandang said there was no plan to screen any travelers from Japan at this time.

Carandang said the President and all the other government officials received information that there was no nuclear meltdown that occurred.

“The information that we have was that there was no meltdown, that the worst of it has been contained. So according to (DOST) Secretary (Mario) Montejo, there is no immediate threat to the country right now from the explosion that happened at the nuclear plant. I think the nature of the explosion has been covered already by international media— the explosions occurred not in the reactor but outside of the reactor. It was hydrogen explosion that apparently did not affect the reactor so that’s very good news for everyone,” Carandang said.

Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan said they would take precautionary measures after two explosions at the aging Fukushima plant 250 kilometers northeast of Tokyo.

"As far as radiation is concerned, I think the most at-risk articles are those fresh products, perhaps dairy products, fresh fruits and vegetables," Hong Kong's Secretary for Food and Health York Chow told reporters.

He said authorities in the southern Chinese territory were "monitoring the situation and also doing the checking at the importation venues to ascertain that they have not been affected".

"In case we detect anything, of course we will ban those products from Hong Kong."

Singapore's food regulator said: "As a precautionary measure, AVA (the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore) will monitor Japanese produce based on source and potential risk of contamination.

"Samples will be taken for testing for radiation. Fresh produce will have priority. AVA will continue to closely monitor the situation and its developments," it said in a statement.

AVA said the bulk of Japanese imports arrive by sea, but Japanese restaurants in Singapore routinely use air freight to fly in produce such as raw fish -- integral to sushi and sashimi -- to ensure its freshness and quality.

Land-starved Singapore's total food import bill in 2010 was Sg$9.29 billion ($7.31 billion), according to official statistics, but no breakdown for food imports from Japan was available.

Singapore's total imports from Japan reached Sg$33.3 billion last year.

Malaysian health authorities said they were taking "precautionary measures" and were closely monitoring food imports from Japan to ensure they were free of contamination.

Health Minister Liow Tiong Lai said Malaysia imports about 48,500 tonnes of food from Japan every year, including fish, fruits and cereal products.

Taiwan's Food and Drug Administration also said it would test food from Japan for radiation.

Thailand's public health ministry said it was not yet checking food imports from Japan, but was "monitoring the situation closely".

Japan's nuclear safety agency has ruled out the possibility of a Chernobyl-style accident at the damaged nuclear plant, according to national strategy minister Koichiro Genba.

But a US aircraft carrier and other ships deployed for relief efforts in the wake of Friday's quake and tsunami shifted their position after detecting low-level radiation from the malfunctioning plant.  With reports from The Philippine Star and Agence France-Presse