CFIA to tighten net on Japanese produce

Any produce and dairy goods imported to Canada from parts of Japan at risk in that country’s current nuclear power plant crisis will face added restrictions on the way in.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency on Wednesday announced “enhanced import controls” on milk products, fruits and vegetables from the northeastern Japanese prefectures of Fukushima, Gunma, Ibaraki and Tochigi.

The products in question won’t be allowed into Canada without “acceptable documentation” verifying their safety, the agency said.

Japanese engineers have been working to prevent meltdowns and radiation leaks at a six-reactor plant at Fukushima that was knocked out by the March 11 tsunami. The Reuters news service on Wednesday quoted Japan’s health ministry as saying it had detected radiation at above safety levels in 11 types of vegetables from the Fukushima area.

Any potentially contaminated products found entering Canada would be disposed of following protocols set up by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, the CFIA said Wednesday.

While Japanese produce and food products make up less than 0.3 per cent of Canada’s imported food, the new restrictions are meant to add an “additional safeguard” to Canada’s existing import controls, the agency said.

CFIA maintains Canada’s controls and tracking systems for imported food. Responsibility for routine monitoring of shipping containers for radioactivity rests with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).

Agri-food imports from Japan to Canada were valued at about $42.6 million in 2010.

“Given the evolving nature of the Japanese situation, these measures will be adjusted, as warranted, to ensure the Canadian food supply remains protected,” CFIA said Wednesday.

The agency said it “recognizes that the government of Japan is taking steps to address this issue and we will continue to provide support to their efforts.”

Japan has evacuated people from a 20-km radius around the Fukushima plant in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami which hit the region. The official death toll from the two disasters was over 9,000 people as of Wednesday, Reuters reported.

“Normal range”

About 7,300 km east of Fukushima, health officials in British Columbia again emphasized Wednesday that releases from the damaged Japanese reactors have only led to “extremely small levels” of radiation on Canada’s West Coast.

The levels are so minute that they pose no risk of health effects, Dr. Perry Kendall, B.C.’s provincial health officer, said in a statement.

“We expect to continue to see measurable evidence of this power plant-associated radioactivity in the air until about a week after the reactor in Japan has stabilized, and we will continue to monitor the situation closely,” Kendall said.

“However, I would like to be clear that the levels noted (on the West Coast) are very low. In fact, radiation levels so far have all been within the normal range of variability, and are below what a person on a long-distance flight may be exposed to.”

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