September 22, 2021
Citing ‘robust control measures,’ the United States on Wednesday lifted an import ban on food products from prefectures hit by the earthquake, tsunami and triple meltdown disaster that struck northeastern Japan in 2011.
The ban, which was put in place following the tsunami-triggered meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, affected 100 agricultural, forestry, fishery and food products from 14 prefectures, including rice and shiitake mushrooms produced in Fukushima.
The other 13 prefectures were Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Yamagata, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Saitama, Chiba, Niigata, Yamanashi, Nagano and Shizuoka.
Ten years after the accident, the number of countries and regions that have imposed import restrictions now totals 14, down from the initial 55.
The news was immediately welcomed in Japan, where officials have long insisted that products from the disaster-hit regions are safe to consume.
“This decision has been long-awaited by people in the disaster-stricken areas, and it will be of great help in their recovery efforts.” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga tweeted on Wednesday. “Japan greatly welcomes this decision.”
Suga added that he was “deeply moved” by the U.S. policy change.
“I personally lobbied President (Joe) Biden for the early elimination of the ban during my visit to the United States in April,” Suga added. “The government must continue to work together to eliminate import restrictions in each country and region.”
In announcing the move, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration cited “extensive analysis of Japan’s robust control measures,” and pointed to 10 years of sampling of food products from Japan.
The decision came after the FDA determined “a very low risk to American consumers from radioactive contaminated foods imported from Japan,” the agency said a statement.
The EU has also decided to relax its related import restrictions next month.
The export value of Japanese agricultural products and food items to the U.S. was ¥118.8 billion in 2020, making it Japan’s third largest export destination after Hong Kong and China, according to the ministry.
“The impact of (the United States’ move) is huge,” an agriculture ministry official said, expressing hope that countries still imposing restrictions will be encouraged to ease or lift them.