10 public hearings on Japanese produce to kick off Saturday

Taiwan's government will hold 10 public hearings starting Saturday on opening imports of currently banned Japanese produce from radiation-affected prefectures, a move drawing criticism from the opposition.

The public hearings from Nov. 12 to 14 will be held in the northern, central, southern and eastern parts of Taiwan as forums for citizens, experts and civic groups to exchange views.

Wang Yu-min (???), an opposition Kuomintang legislator, asked why there was such a rush to hold 10 public hearings in just three days and suspected that the government was holding them simply for the sake of holding them.

She demanded that the government reschedule the 10 public hearings so that the public could fully express its misgivings and views.

Wang also accused the government of "trying to blur the focus of the public hearings," citing the title of the hearings -- "Public Hearings on Japanese Food to Taiwan" -- which she said was misleading.

Japan exports a lot of food items to Taiwan, Wang said, but the real issue in question is Japanese food that may be contaminated with radioactive substances being brought into Taiwan.

She was also critical of the forums' formats, saying that government officials will speak for 30 minutes and only 90 minutes will be open to public discussion.

Food imports from the Japanese prefectures of Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma and Chiba have been suspended in Taiwan since March 25, 2011 because of fears of radioactive contamination in those areas from a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

The nuclear disaster was triggered by a massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.

Since May 15, 2015, importers of Japanese food products have been required to present certificates of origin to prove that their items do not originate from any of the five prefectures.

For some imports such as tea, baby food, dairy and aquatic products, radiation inspection certificates have also been required.

Various Japanese groups have reportedly asked Taiwan to lift the ban since Pesident Tsai Ing-wen (???) assumed office in May.

Legislator Kao Chin Su-mei (????) of the Non-Partisan Solidarity Union questioned why the government was set to open high risk food from Japan's radiation-affected areas and whether it was being pressured to open the domestic market.

She said that if the government lifts the ban at the expense of public health in a closed-door deal, lawmakers will never agree.

Ruling Democratic Progressive Party lawmakers defended the Cabinet's decision.

DPP legislative caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (???) said expert meetings and public hearings on the issue have been held previously, and that now that legislative committees wanted more public hearings, the Cabinet was complying with that wish.

DPP Legislator Lin Chin-yi (???) said the 10 public hearings in three days were aimed at "easing public misgivings in the shortest possible time," and she urged the KMT not to blur the focus of the issue.

She argued that it was necessary to review the policy because imports of Japanese products into Taiwan increased by 50 percent between 2010 and 2015, but insisted that the government would stress stepping up import controls and food safety.

"Taiwan will not import produce that Japan would not put on the market," she said.

Hsu Fu (??), head of the Office of Food Safety under the Executive Yuan, said Friday that only China and Taiwan have yet to open their markets to food from areas in Japan affected by radioactive contamination from the nuclear plant meltdown, and the government is now planning management measures.

On whether there was a timetable for the opening, Hsu said he has "yet to receive such a message."

But Chen Chi-chung (???), deputy chief of the Council of Agriculture, said Friday that a partial opening of currently banned Japanese produce could come next year, but would not include items from Fukushima.

He said Japan will still be required to produce certificates of radiation inspection and certificates of origin with each shipment, and Taiwan will also inspect imports shipment by shipment at its border.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel