The Department of Health (DOH) imposed a temporary suspension for an indefinite period of time on imports of food products from five Japanese prefectures affected by radiation fallout from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in northeastern Japan.
But some scholars said the temporary ban is not enough to safeguard food safety and should also cover products from four other areas.
Import inspection applications will not be accepted with immediate effect for agricultural products and processed foodstuffs from the prefectures of Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, and Chiba, Health Minister Chiu Wen-ta said at a news conference yesterday.
Chiu said no food products from these areas are currently being sold on the Taiwanese market because Japan has already stopped their export.
The suspension could be expanded to include products from other areas if the nuclear contamination worsens in Japan, he said.
In the meantime, the minister said, the department has continued its batch-by-batch inspection of eight categories of Japanese food imports.
These imports include refrigerated fresh fruits and vegetables, frozen fruits and vegetables, live aquatic products, frozen aquatic products, dairy products, baby food, mineral water and other kinds of drinking water, and seaweed.
Also, the department has stepped up its random inspections of processed food from Japan manufactured after March 12, one day after the devastating earthquake and tsunami and the nuclear power plant crisis took place, he said.
Any products found to be contaminated by excessive radiation levels will not be allowed to enter the Taiwanese market and will be destroyed, he said.
The U.S. temporarily banned selected food products like vegetables, fruits, milk and dairy products from the four prefectures of Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, and Gunma three days earlier on notice from the World Health Organization.
Some critics in Taiwan blamed the government for taking only belated actions concerning products from Japan.
But officials at the DOH defended that the government has actually adopted stricter measures, as it has also included products from Chiba while the suspension covers all food products.
In addition, the government has also stepped up random inspections of Japanese products that do not originate from the areas affected by the nuclear radiation, they said.
Chan Chang-chuan, professor at the Institute of Occupational Medicine and Industrial Hygiene at the College of Public Health of the National Taiwan University said the import prohibition should be extended to products from four more Japanese prefectures.
Based on the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the Ukraine, radioactive contamination could reach areas as far as 145 kilometers, he said.
Chan also suggested that the government should intensify the inspection of dairy products from Japan for the sake of pregnant women and children, who are most prone to hazardous radiation effects.
The government should also require certificates for radiation safety from importers for Japanese products when the current temporary ban is lifted, he said.
When answering questions raised at a legislative session earlier yesterday, Premier Wu Den-yih told lawmakers that the government will impose temporary but strict screening of vegetable and fruit imports from Japan to ensure the public's health and safety.
Detailed measures will be worked out or revised by relevant government agencies like the DOH and the Council of Agriculture concerning what products from which areas are to be affected by the temporary ban, he added.
-The China Post/Asia News Network