Cabinet spokesman Hsu Kuo-yung (徐國勇)


Taipei, Dec. 16 (CNA) The government is to put on hold a planned opening of food products from radiation-affected prefectures in Japan amid public misgivings about food safety, a Cabinet spokesman said Friday.

Hsu Kuo-yung (徐國勇) said in a news conference Friday that the Cabinet “has to first ensure a sound inspection and management mechanism,” before talking about any opening to food products from the affected areas of Japan.

Hsu pointed out that Premier Lin Chuan (林全) has stressed the importance of “rebuilding public trust in the government’s management of food safety,” after presiding over a cross-agency meeting the previous day.

The premier also said that “without a sound inspection and management mechanism, there can be no question of such an opening,” according to Hsu.

Taiwan banned food imports from Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma and Chiba prefectures in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant meltdown following a massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan on March 11, 2011.

Amid reports that the government is planning to lift its ban on food imports from the radiation-affected prefectures except for Fukushima, several brands of Japanese natto containing packets of soy sauce from Chiba and Ibaraki have recently been found in Taiwan.

Hsu said that although food products from Fukushima and the surrounding prefectures are banned, there are composite packaging foods, such as the condiment sashets in packages of instant noodles, that have not been subjected to scrutiny.

“The government will review the issue and plug the loopholes,” Hsu said.

Before establishing a sound management mechanism, the government will not make a decision, “and there is no timetable for any such opening,” Hsu said.

He said that there will be three more public hearings on imports of controversial Japanese food products, saying that holding the public hearings is significant in three ways.

They are aimed at establishing a model for future public hearings, then at clarifying false information, as the public has seen all kinds of rumors flying recently.

The public hearings will also be presided over by civic groups rather than by government officials as in previous hearings, in a bid to collect views from the public on how to plug loopholes for the reference of the government, he said.

Sheu Fuu (許輔), director of food safety office under the Executive Yuan, said that all questions raised by the civic groups will be discussed and clarified one by one.

The Cabinet held 10 public hearings on the safety of Japanese products around Taiwan from Nov. 12-14 after announcing them Nov. 10, but critics saw them as essentially being held for show to pave the way for lifting the ban.

Questions were raised about why the government seemed in such a rush to hold the hearings, and some of them ended in chaos amid protests.

Sheu said that if the public still cannot accept the situation after the three public hearings, the government will review the contentious points, and if it cannot resolve such points and effectively manage food safety, “it will not rule out the possibility of maintaining the current ban.”