China opens the door a crack wider to Japanese rice imports

May 15, 2018
Beijing approves more processing facilities but many restrictions remain
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China allows imports of Japanese rice only from approved mills. There is only one such facility now, but Beijing will add two more to the list, potentially expanding Japan’s export market.
TOKYO — The Japanese ramen noodle chain, Ajisen Ramen, operates around 600 restaurants in China. But if you want Japanese rice with your noodles, you must pay about four times the price of a domestic variety. In China, Japanese rice is only for the deep-pocketed.
One reason Japanese rice is so expensive is that China imposes strict controls on imports of the food staple from Japan. Some of these restrictions were introduced after the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011.
But things may soon start to change. On May 9, the two counties struck a deal to increase the Japanese facilities that Beijing approves to process rice bound for its shores. China is a potentially a huge market for Japanese rice, but currently accounts for only 3% of overall exports. Hong Kong and Singapore, the two largest markets, take about 60% of the total.
Japan’s agriculture ministry sees China as vital to achieving its target of increasing annual exports of rice and related products to 100,000 tons. In 2017, Japan exported 11,800 tons of rice, of which only 298 tons went to China. According to one estimate, China consumes about 20 times more rice than Japan.
While the recent deal between the two countries is a step forward, Chinese restrictions and high costs remain major hurdles for Japanese exporters. Most experts also say Japan’s rice exports will remain vulnerable to any political tensions between the two countries.
To export white rice to China, brown rice must first be milled and fumigated at facilities that China has approved as safe. The new deal will expand the number of approved mills and fumigation facilities.
There is currently only one rice mill in Japan approved by China, operated by the National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations (Zen-Noh) in Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo.
The agreement adds two more mills. One is located in Ishikari, on the northern main island of Hokkaido, operated by Hokuren Federation of Agricultural Cooperatives. The other is in Nishinomiya in western Hyogo Prefecture, operated by Shinmei, the nation’s largest rice wholesaler.
A Shinmei executive welcomed the agreement, saying it would enable the company to “respond more swiftly to needs in China.”
In Beijing, Shinmei sells the popular Koshihikari rice variety, grown in central Toyama Prefecture on the Sea of Japan coast, for about 2,600 yen ($23.70) per 2kg. That is nearly double the retail price in Japan, and 80% higher than the price of Koshihikari produced in northeastern Niigata Prefecture and sold in Hong Kong.
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A Japanese farmer in Ibaraki Prefecture tends to his crop using a rice planting machine
One reason Japanese rice is so expensive in China is because of transport costs and distributor margins. Reducing costs is a principal challenge for Japanese rice exporters.
A Shinmei executive said that in addition to an effective marketing campaign in China, increasing rice exports requires serious cost-cutting in Japan.
For its rice exports to China, Shinmei has had to outsource the milling process to Zen-Noh. That means the rice wholesaler has to send rice harvested all across the country to the Zen-Noh plant in Kanagawa.
Since Zen-Noh’s mill and warehouses are not always available, this arrangement requires the time-consuming process of coordinating schedules between the two sides in advance.
As for fumigation to control insects, Beijing has approved only two facilities in Japan, both in Kanagawa. Under the new deal, Japan’s agriculture ministry will register five more fumigation warehouses for exports to China, including facilities in Hokkaido and Hyogo.
The new agreement will allow Shinmei to polish rice at its own mills and to fumigate it at a warehouse in Kobe for shipment to China from Kobe’s port.
China’s restrictions on food imports from Japan following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster are also a barrier to Japanese rice exports. China bans all food from 10 Japanese prefectures, including Fukushima, Miyagi and Niigata.
The import curbs, which cover rice snacks, sake and other rice products, hit the rice industry hard, said Kosuke Kuji, president of Nanbu Bijin, a sake brewer based in Ninohe, Iwate Prefecture.
While Japan and China have set up a task force to discuss steps to ease the restrictions, there is not much reason for optimism about the outcome of the talks, an agriculture ministry official said.
The chairman of the Central Union of Agricultural Co-operatives, Toru Nakaya, is also cautious about the outlook for rice exports to China.
“We do not expect rapid progress, but we welcome the step forward,” Nakaya said of the recent agreement.
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Intensive campaign from Japanese diplomats to push other countries to lift their ban on Japanese contaminated produce

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Japan requests Hong Kong to lift ban on food from Fukushima, vicinity
March 25, 2018
HONG KONG (Kyodo) — Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono met with Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Sunday and requested the territory lift a ban on imports of agricultural products from Japanese prefectures near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
 
Hong Kong has banned imports of fruit and vegetables from Fukushima Prefecture and four surrounding prefectures, citing the nuclear disaster at the plant triggered by a massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.
 
The Japanese government hopes to enhance economic ties with the territory by paving the way for Hong Kong to lift the import ban. Tokyo also hopes Hong Kong’s action would lead China to relax similar restrictions, as Beijing has banned food imports from 10 Japanese prefectures.
 
Kono and Lam also affirmed cooperation in preventing North Korea from evading sanctions through ship-to-ship cargo transfers in international waters.
 
A Hong Kong-flagged vessel is believed to have secretly transferred oil to a North Korean vessel in October in a ship-to-ship transfer prohibited by the U.N. Security Council.
 
It is the first time in 21 years that a Japanese foreign minister has visited Hong Kong apart from international conferences. During their meeting, Kono and Lam also agreed to accelerate cooperation on tourism.
 

Amount of food with radioactive cesium exceeding gov’t standards ‘dropping’, so they claim

So they say…..But why should we believe such study coming from the Japanese Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry research team to be true? Especially when we know that their main policy has been a constant denial of the existing risks for the past 7 years…..
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March 22, 2018
The number of cases in which radioactive cesium exceeding Japanese government standards was found in food items dropped to less than 20 percent over a five-year period from fiscal 2012, a health ministry study has found.
 
The government standards for radioactive cesium came into effect in April 2012, which assumed that half of distributed food products contained the radioactive element generated by the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. It is set at 100 becquerels per kilogram for common food items, 50 becquerels per kilogram for baby food and cow milk and 10 becquerels for drinking water.
 
Based on central government guidelines, 17 prefectural governments, counting Tokyo, check food products in which radioactive cesium is likely to be detected, including items that have been distributed, for the radioactive element. Other local governments have also been independently inspecting such food products to confirm their safety. A Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry research team analyzed data compiled by local governments, excluding that of beef, which has an extremely low detection rate for cesium, as well as products that go through bag-by-bag inspections such as rice from Fukushima Prefecture.
 
As a result, the number of cases that exceeded the threshold set under the Food Sanitation Act totaled 2,359 of 91,547 food products inspected in fiscal 2012. In fiscal 2013, it was 1,025 out of 90,824 products, 565 out of 79,067 in fiscal 2014, 291 out of 66,663 in fiscal 2015 and 460 out of 63,121 in fiscal 2016.
 
Broken down by categories, 641 cases of food items among agricultural produce were found to have exceeded the government standards for radioactive cesium and 1,072 cases were detected among fishery products in fiscal 2012, but the figure had dropped to 71 and 11, respectively, in fiscal 2016. For fishery products, this is believed to be attributed to the reduction of cesium concentration in the seawater as the element had diffused in the ocean. It is also believed that the concentration in agricultural items had dropped as a result of decontamination work and other efforts.
 
At the same time, the number of cases exceeding national standards totaled 493 for game meat in fiscal 2012, and 378 in fiscal 2016. Researchers suspect that because wild animals continue to feed on wild mushrooms and plants with high concentrations of radioactive cesium growing in forests that have not been decontaminated, the figure does not drop among game meat products.
Almost all the foods that exceeded the government standards for radioactive cesium had not been available to consumers as the contamination was detected during inspections before being shipped to markets. However, Akiko Hachisuka of the National Institute of Health Sciences Biochemistry Division who headed the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry research team says game meat and wild mushrooms need to be prioritized in inspections for the time being and also in the future.
 
Among wild mushrooms and other products that had been distributed to markets, 19 cases exceeding government standards were reported in fiscal 2012, seven in fiscal 2013, 11 in fiscal 2014, 12 in fiscal 2015 and 10 in fiscal 2016.
 

Fukushima flounder exported for first time since nuclear disaster March 1, 2018

March 1, 2018
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A worker hefts a flounder into a box for export to Thailand in Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, on Feb. 28, 2018.
 
SOMA, Fukushima — Known as the pride of the Joban region along the Pacific coast, flounder caught off Fukushima Prefecture were exported on Feb. 28 for the first time since the nuclear disaster seven years ago.
The shipment will make its way to Bangkok, where it will supply Japanese restaurants in the Thai capital with close to 1 ton of flounder by the end of March. On Feb. 28, the roughly 100 kilograms of ocean-caught fish were stacked into ice-filled cases at the market in Soma, Fukushima Prefecture. Each flounder weighed between 1.5 to 2 kilograms, and Soma Futaba fisheries cooperative head Kanji Tachiya, 66, said, “While the number of fish caught along the coast is still few, the fact that Fukushima fish will be tasted abroad motivates us.”
The flounder along Fukushima’s coastline have thick white flesh and excellent flavor, even fetching high prices at Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji wholesale market. Restrictions on their export were lifted in 2016, and while business will continue on a trial basis, the flounder still cost 10 to 20 percent less than those caught in other regions.
The Fukushima Prefectural Government negotiated with a trading company in Thailand that did not impose import restrictions on marine products from the region following the nuclear disaster. Levels of radioactive cesium in all of the roughly 25,000 types of marine products caught off the Fukushima coast surveyed by the prefecture have fallen below the domestic standard of 100 becquerels per kilogram since April 2015, and the aim is to increase the amount, type and destinations for exported fish in the future.

New evidence of nuclear fuel releases found at Fukushima

February 28, 2018
Uranium and other radioactive materials, such as caesium and technetium, have been found in tiny particles released from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors.
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“Our research strongly suggests there is a need for further detailed investigation on Fukushima fuel debris, inside, and potentially outside the nuclear exclusion zone,” said Dr Gareth Law.
 
Uranium and other radioactive materials, such as caesium and technetium, have been found in tiny particles released from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors.
This could mean the environmental impact from the fallout may last much longer than previously expected according to a new study by a team of international researchers, including scientists from The University of Manchester.
The team says that, for the first time, the fallout of Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor fuel debris into the surrounding environment has been “explicitly revealed” by the study.
The scientists have been looking at extremely small pieces of debris, known as micro-particles, which were released into the environment during the initial disaster in 2011. The researchers discovered uranium from nuclear fuel embedded in or associated with caesium-rich micro particles that were emitted from the plant’s reactors during the meltdowns. The particles found measure just five micrometres or less; approximately 20 times smaller than the width of a human hair. The size of the particles means humans could inhale them.
The reactor debris fragments were found inside the nuclear exclusion zone, in paddy soils and at an abandoned aquaculture centre, located several kilometres from the nuclear plant.
It was previously thought that only volatile, gaseous radionuclides such as caesium and iodine were released from the damaged reactors. Now it is becoming clear that small, solid particles were also emitted, and that some of these particles contain very long-lived radionuclides; for example, uranium has a half-life of billions of years.
Dr Gareth Law, Senior Lecturer in Analytical Radiochemistry at the University of Manchester and an author on the paper, says: “Our research strongly suggests there is a need for further detailed investigation on Fukushima fuel debris, inside, and potentially outside the nuclear exclusion zone. Whilst it is extremely difficult to get samples from such an inhospitable environment, further work will enhance our understanding of the long-term behaviour of the fuel debris nano-particles and their impact.”
The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) is currently responsible for the clean-up and decommissioning process at the Fukushima Daiichi site and in the surrounding exclusion zone. Dr Satoshi Utsunomiya, Associate Professor at Kyushu University (Japan) led the study.
He added: “Having better knowledge of the released microparticles is also vitally important as it provides much needed data on the status of the melted nuclear fuels in the damaged reactors. This will provide extremely useful information for TEPCO’s decommissioning strategy.”
At present, chemical data on the fuel debris located within the damaged nuclear reactors is impossible to get due to the high levels of radiation. The microparticles found by the international team of researchers will provide vital clues on the decommissioning challenges that lie ahead.
 
Story Source:
Materials provided by Manchester University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
 
Journal Reference:
1. Asumi Ochiai, Junpei Imoto, Mizuki Suetake, Tatsuki Komiya, Genki Furuki, Ryohei Ikehara, Shinya Yamasaki, Gareth T. W. Law, Toshihiko Ohnuki, Bernd Grambow, Rodney C. Ewing, Satoshi Utsunomiya. Uranium Dioxides and Debris Fragments Released to the Environment with Cesium-Rich Microparticles from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Environmental Science & Technology, 2018; DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.7b06309
 

Correlation between infectious disease and soil radiation in Japan: an exploratory study using national sentinel surveillance data

From 16 January 2017

Summary
We investigated the relationship between epidemics and soil radiation through an exploratory study using sentinel surveillance data (individuals aged <20 years) during the last three epidemic seasons of influenza and norovirus in Japan. We used a spatial analysis method of a geographical information system (GIS). We mapped the epidemic spreading patterns from sentinel incidence rates. We calculated the average soil radiation [dm (μGy/h)] for each sentinel site using data on uranium, thorium, and potassium oxide in the soil and examined the incidence rate in units of 0·01 μGy/h. The correlations between the incidence rate and the average soil radiation were assessed. Epidemic clusters of influenza and norovirus infections were observed in areas with relatively high radiation exposure. A positive correlation was detected between the average incidence rate and radiation dose, at r = 0·61–0·84 (P < 0·01) for influenza infections and r = 0·61–0·72 (P < 0·01) for norovirus infections. An increase in the incidence rate was found between areas with radiation exposure of 0 < dm < 0·01 and 0·15 ⩽ dm < 0·16, at 1·80 [95% confidence interval (CI) 1·47–2·12] times higher for influenza infection and 2·07 (95% CI 1·53–2·61) times higher for norovirus infection. Our results suggest a potential association between decreased immunity and irradiation because of soil radiation. Further studies on immunity in these epidemic-prone areas are desirable.
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Seoul defies WTO ruling, vows to keep ban on Japan’s Fukushima seafood

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South Korea vows to maintain its restrictions on Japanese seafood imports and appeal the WTO’s ruling against additional radiation tests and bans on fishery products introduced in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
In 2015, Tokyo filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) challenging South Korea’s import bans that were introduced on certain fish caught in Japanese waters over fears of radiation following the meltdown of three reactors at the Fukushima power plant in March 2011. In its official complaint, Japan also challenged additional testing and certification requirements placed by Seoul on Japanese fish caught from eight prefectures near Fukushima.
On Thursday, the WTO ruled in Japan’s favor, claiming that while South Korean practices were initially justified, they now violate the WTO’s sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) agreement. “By maintaining the product-specific and blanket import bans on the 28 fishery products from the 8 prefectures and the 2011 and 2013 additional testing requirements on Japanese products, Korea acted inconsistently with Article 2.3, first sentence of the SPS Agreement and, as a consequence with Article 2.3, second sentence,” the ruling said.
South Korea on Friday refused to bow to the WTO ruling due to public health and safety concerns, announcing that it will challenge the ruling while maintaining the current level of restrictions.
“The Korean government will appeal to safeguard public health and safety,” the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said in a release. “Regardless of the decision, the current import ban will be put in place until the WTO’s dispute settlement procedure ends.”
Japan’s minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Ken Saito, called Seoul’s disobedience regrettable. “Japan will respond accordingly so that our position will be accepted by the Appellate Body as well. We will also call on South Korea to sincerely and promptly correct their measures,” he said at a news conference.
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Twenty-four nations across the globe still have some import limitations on Japanese seafood products. Originally, 46 nations adopted protective measures but over time have eased their restriction practices to allow Japanese imports. Despite the ban on Fukushima products, South Korea has imported 708,566 tons of seafood from Japan since March 2011, according to South Korea’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety. South Korean authorities returned only around 0.03 percent of those imports, asking for additional radiation level tests.