24 Mar 2011

Australia latest to halt Japanese food imports

10:16 pm on 24 March 2011

The Australian government has ordered a halt on food imports from parts of Japan amid fears of radiation contamination from the country's crippled nuclear plant.

The Fukushima Daiichi plant was badly damaged after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake triggered a tsunami that devastated the country's north-east coast on 11 March.

The number of people confirmed dead or listed as missing from the disaster is at least 26,000.

Engineers have been battling to cool the reactors and spent fuel ponds to avoid a large-scale release of radiation.

Tens of thousands of people living in the region have been evacuated and radiation has contaminated drinking water, milk and vegetables.

The United States and Hong Kong have already restricted Japanese food, and France wants the European Union to do the same.

Australia has ordered a halt to food imports from the Fukushima, Gunma, Ibaraki and Tochigi prefectures which are near the plant.

Singapore also suspended imports of milk products and other foodstuffs from the prefectures, while and Canada has implemented enhanced import controls on products from there, AFP reports.

The Australian government on Thursday introduced a holding order on food imports from the four prefectures and is also holding all Japanese food imports as a precautionary measure, the ABC reports.

The government says the risk to Australian consumers is negligible, because only seaweed and seafood are currently imported from Japan.

The order covers other foods such as milk and milk products, fresh fruit and vegetables.

The holding order took effect on Thursday morning and will remain until Australian regulators are satisfied there is no further risk.

Tap water 'safe' for Tokyo babies

Radiation levels in Tokyo's water supply are reported to have dropped, meaning it is safe once again for infants to drink tap water.

An earlier warning about increased levels of radiation had led to some panic buying of bottled water.

The government is assuring residents that the contaminated tap water in the capital also poses no threat to adults.