Taipei, March 24 (CNA) Health officials ordered the removal from shelves of Japanese food from areas contaminated by radiation from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster after confirming that they had been found in local supermakets.
Chiang Yu-mei (姜郁美), chief of the Food and Drug Administration under the Ministry of Health and Welfare, said the food products, from the Japanese prefectures of Fukushima, Ibaraki, Gumma and Chiba have been banned in Taiwan since March 30, 2011, but had somehow managed to get into local supermarkets, including AMart (愛買), Wellcome (頂好) and Shin Kong Mitsukoshi (新光三越).
Violators of the ban can be punished with fines of between NT$30,000 (NT$880) and NT$3 million, said another health official.
Both AMart and Shin Kong Mitsukoshi said they had already removed the problematic food items from their shelves, with AMart promising to refund consumers who can present proof of purchase before May.
Chiang said her office is checking the stores to see the extent of the banned imports and has asked the Atomic Energy Commission to examine the radiation levels in the products, mainly soy sauce, cookies, instant noodles and condiments.
She said that food imported from Japan must have official warranties guaranteeing that they are manufactured in the places stated on their labels and are free of nuclear radiation.
The Food and Drug Administration have also warned local governments to check stores under their jurisdictions for food from these five Japanese prefectures.
Health officials from New Taipei said they had found and seized 70 items of Japanese food whose manufacturing places on labels had been covered with Chinese stickers carrying different places of origin such as Tokyo, Osaka, Hokkaido and even places in the United States.
Similar action has also been taken by officials in Hsinchu, Taoyuan, Tainan, who said they had posted the names of the problem foods on their websites and urged stores selling them to remove them from their shelves within 10 days.
As Taiwan's health authorities confirmed that these questionable products had been exported to Taiwan using false labels, a Japanese official told a group of visiting Taiwanese journalists that he could not comprehend how this could have happened, given Japan's strict monitoring of radioactivity in any products.
Forging labels in Japan is a crime that carries a fine of up to 100 million yen (US$900,000), or two years in prison, said Kazunari Sudo, an Ibaraki official in charge of marketing agricultural, fishery and forestry products.
Besides the risk of getting caught and punished, using false labels on potentially radioactive products also affects a company's business reputation, Sudo told Taiwanese journalists visting the Tsunami-affected areas at the invitation of the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO).
He said it is nearly impossible that business firms in his county could have "purposely violated the law" by exporting the suspect products to Taiwan, which, like South Korea, has imposed restrictions on imports from the affected area.
Japanese officials based in Taipei, however, said while they're expecting investigation results from Taiwan authorities, they hope Taiwan will accept products from the affected area.
(By Tang Pei-chun, Chang Ming-hsuan, S.C. Chang and Maubo Chang)