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(LEAD) S. Korea to tighten radiation tests on Japanese food imports

All Headlines 17:06 March 15, 2011

(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead; UPDATES with gov't decision on radiation tests)

SEOUL, March 15 (Yonhap) -- South Korea will tighten radiation inspections of Japanese meat and fisheries imports after radioactive materials leaked from a crippled nuclear plant, the government said Tuesday.

The Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said that all 17 fisheries and meat products imported from Japan will be checked for radiation along with fish caught in waters that may have been contaminated by radioactive materials released from reactors at the Fukushima power plant on the northeastern coast of Honshu Island.

"Inspections will be carried out on all products processed after Saturday when the No. 1 reactor at the nuclear power plant exploded," the ministry said. "Radiation checks will be carried out once a week up till April 30, and once a month in May and June."

Seoul imported 527 tons of meat products and 84,018 tons of fishery products from Japan last year.

The move follows growing concerns among South Korean consumers over the safety of Japanese food imports.

Local retailers said customers have started inquiring about the safety of food imported from Japan since there is a chance that radioactive materials could have contaminated plants and entered the food chain. Fears were further fueled after media reports showed the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore checking for possible radioactive contamination in Japanese food.

Local experts, however, said that at present, the radiation that has leaked into the environment is too small to cause people to get sick by consuming vegetables and other foods.

"The leaks are being monitored around the clock, but because they are dispersed by the air and vast ocean, actual radiation levels that can be concentrated in plants and animals are small," said Kim Eun-hee, a radiation engineering professor at Seoul National University.

She said that even if fish are exposed to radiation, living organisms can naturally excrete harmful materials before they are caught and eaten by people.


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