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Asia To Test Japan Food Imports For Radiation

Date: 15-Mar-11
Country: PHILLIPINES
Author: Cho Meeyoung in Seoul, James Pomfret in Hong Kong, Ambika Ahuja in Bangkok, Y-Sing Liau in Kuala Lumpur and Eveline Danubrata in Singapore

South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Philippines will test Japanese food imports for radiation, officials said on Monday, and other countries may also step up monitoring as Japan tries to contain a nuclear crisis.

"As far as radiation is concerned, I think the most at-risk articles are ... fresh products, perhaps dairy products, fresh fruits and vegetables," Hong Kong's Food and Health Secretary York Chow said.

"We are monitoring the situation and also checking at importation venues to ascertain that they have not been affected."

Singapore's agri-food and veterinary authority (AVA) said it would test imports from Japan and particularly fresh produce.

South Korea's Food and Drug Administration said it would test fresh agriculture and forest products for radiation, although it added it was not a big buyer of such products from Japan. Officials said testing of seafood was also being considered -- South Korea imported 84,000 metric tons of fish from Japan in 2010.

Japan's food exports are a small part of its overall trade, equivalent to about 0.15 percent of GDP, and go mostly to Asian nations. Ministry of Finance data shows the value of exports of food and live animals was 349.1 trillion yen ($4.26 billion) in 2010.

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Thailand's public health ministry said it had no plans at present for extra monitoring of imports from Japan, but Malaysia said it would step up checks on food shipments.

"The health ministry is closely monitoring the situation and will take precautionary measure by monitoring food imports from Japan," Malaysia's Health Minister Liow Tiong Lai said in a statement.

Data for 2009 showed 2.6 million people were engaged in agriculture in Japan, about 4 percent of a 65.9 million strong workforce. Farm output accounted for about 1 percent of GDP.

In the Philippines, text messages circulated saying the country was at danger from the radiation leaks and warning people to stay indoors. The government said the messages were untrue and alarming. Manila is about 3,000 km (1,860 miles) south of Tokyo.

"The Philippines' chances of being affected by Japan's nuclear incident are thus really remote," said Fe Medina, spokeswoman of Philippine Nuclear Research Institute.

She said the government would monitor wind direction, and current patterns would push any radiation leak away from the Philippines.

Presidential spokesman Ricky Carandang said as a precaution, food imports from Japan would be checked for radiation, although Medina said imports would not be stopped.

"Right now, we are not yet recommending a ban on any food products from Japan and we don't think it's ... necessary," she said.

(Editing by Andrew Marshall)

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