China bans imports of some Japanese food

By Michael Martina and Sui-Lee Wee

BEIJING (Reuters) – China banned imports of some Japanese food products on Friday amid fears of radiation contamination, hours after announcing that two Japanese travelers who had flown into an eastern city were found to have radiation levels well above safety limits.

China joins a growing list of countries that have stopped imports of some foodstuffs from Japan.

The ban covers dairy, aquatic and vegetable products as well as fruit from the five Japanese prefectures of Fukushima, Tochigi, Gunma, Ibaraki, Chiba, China’s quality watchdog, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) said in a statement.

“Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant leak accident has already resulted in serious pollution to local food and agricultural products,” the agency said, adding that the ban took effect from Thursday.

“The Japanese government has already detected excessive radioactive matter from many regions’ related food and agricultural products, and adopted rules prohibiting the distribution of food products.”

Japan has stopped shipments of vegetables and milk from near the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant in the country’s northeast, while Singapore, Taiwan, Australia, the United States and Hong Kong are all restricting food and milk imports from the area.

Though China has not found any abnormal radiation levels on goods imported from Japan, it will step up radiation checks on other food products from those and other parts of Japan, the watchdog added.

The World Health Organization said that China is one of the top markets for Japanese food products. It imported $593 million in agricultural products from Japan last year, accounting for just 0.33 percent of Japan’s total exports to China, according to customs data.

ABNORMAL RADIATION LEVELS

Separately, the quality watchdog said that two Japanese travelers who flew into China’s eastern city of Wuxi from Tokyo on Wednesday had radiation levels that “seriously exceeded the limit.”

The radiation detected on the travelers marks the first time serious contamination from the nuclear crisis in Japan has reached China. Still, the agency’s statement said the individuals were given medical treatment and presented no risk to others.

The inspection service did not define radiation limits, and Japanese authorities have said no one in Japan, aside from workers at the nuclear plant crippled after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, has been found to have seriously elevated radiation levels.

The travelers, who were flying on Shenzhen Airlines, came from Nagano and Saitama prefectures in Japan, the agency said.

“Passengers and crew members will be screened upon landing in China now. That’s how they found out the two Japanese passengers had unusual radiation levels,” said a spokesman at Shenzhen Airlines. “It’s the government, not the airlines themselves, that is handling the tests.”

Japan Foreign Ministry deputy spokesman Takeshi Matsunaga, asked about the report from China, said that as of March 18, the International Civil Aviation Association had said that screening of passengers from Japan was not considered necessary, and that he was not aware of any change in that position.

He had no specific information on these travelers. Japanese Embassy officials in Beijing and Shanghai had no immediate comment.

A government official in Wuxi told Reuters by telephone: “It was on their clothes, it has not affected their bodies.”

On Tuesday, China detected what it said were “abnormal” radiation levels on a Japanese merchant ship entering the port at Xiamen in eastern Fujian province.

The quality agency said in another notice on its website that local inspection teams discovered the radiation on the “MOL Presence,” a ship owned by Japan’s Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, when it docked in Xiamen early on Tuesday.

The notice was dated March 22 and did not give details about the radiation levels found on the ship, but said, without elaborating, that local authorities were taking additional measures.

A spokesman for the agency did not say if it was the ship or the goods onboard that were giving off abnormal radiation, according to China’s Xinhua news agency, which reported the news on Friday.

The ship left Tokyo on March 17 and was still docked at the port in Xiamen, Xinhua reported.

(Additional reporting by Chris Buckley, Ben Blanchard and Fang Yan in Beijing, and Linda Sieg in Tokyo)

China bans imports of some Japanese food