Thursday

21st Sep 2017

MEPs to raise alarm on Fukushima food imports

  • Measuring radioactivity in Fukushima in 2012. (Photo: Tamaki Sono)

Members of the European Parliament's food safety committee will vote on a text on Thursday (7 September), raising the alarm over a European Commission proposal to partly relax controls on food imports from Fukushima, Japan, which suffered a nuclear disaster in 2011.

The draft resolution, seen by EUobserver, said "there are sufficient reasons to believe that this proposal could lead to an increase in exposure to radioactive contaminated food with a corresponding impact on human health".

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The MEPs' text highlighted that, under the commission's proposal, rice and derived products from the Fukushima prefecture would no longer be subject to emergency inspections. It stressed that one of those products is "rice used in baby food and food for young children".

The text criticised that the commission's proposal did not justify why some foodstuffs were taken off the list.

However, the MEPs' concerns may already be outdated.

Cautious

Danish centre-left MEP Christel Schaldemose, one of the text's sponsors, spoke to EUobserver on Tuesday over the phone.

"We are completely relying on data from the Japanese side. … We need to be cautious," she said.

"I wouldn't say we can't trust them, but it is worth checking ourselves," said Schaldemose.

The resolution is an initiative by French Green MEP Michele Rivasi, who has been working on the text since June 2017.

In parallel, Rivasi and two of her Greens colleagues, also asked the commission for an explanation through a written question, on 14 July.

On 22 August, EU commissioner for food safety Vytenis Andriukaitis answered, telling MEPs that the proposed changes are based on publicly available data from the Japanese government.

Andriukaitis included a link to the raw data in a footnote, and said that if MEPs wanted to have a "detailed justification for the proposed changes", they can get them "by separate mail, upon request".

According to a commission source, Rivasi will receive this justification after having requested it.

Meanwhile, however, work on the resolution continued, and is now on the agenda for a vote on Thursday.

It received the support from five other MEPs, including two from the two largest political groups in the EU parliament.

Free trade agreement

The parliament's text, which is non-binding, also mentioned that Japanese exports of rice could increase under the EU-Japan free trade agreement (FTA), which the commission is expected to wrap up this year.

In a briefing which Green MEP Rivasi gave to journalists last July, according to a summary provided by her office, the French politician implied that the proposal on Fukushima was a bargaining chip in the negotiations for the FTA, and called it a "scandal".

The left-wing Greens are generally critical of FTAs.

Rivasi referred to a remark commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker made following an EU-Japan summit on 6 July.

"I would like to congratulate prime minister Abe on the remarkable progress Japan has made on making products from the Fukushima region safe, following the 2011 accident," Juncker had said.

"I am confident and I will work into that direction that we will have after the summer break a further lifting of import measures," he added.

A commission spokeswoman told EUobserver, however, that the proposed changes are based on a thorough analysis.

"The requirement for pre-testing before export is lifted only for food and feed from a prefecture where sufficient data demonstrate that food and feed is compliant in the last growing season with the strict maximum levels applicable in Japan," she said.

The emergency restrictions were put in place two weeks after the accident happened, and have already been amended five times.

The decision is taken by a so-called implementing act, which only involves the commission and member states, but not the EU parliament.

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