Reports in the Taiwanese press last month (April) claimed more than 100 food products sold there had been produced in Fukushima, northern Japan, but were labelled as coming from Tokyo.
Despite the UK’s stringent traceability laws, it was impossible to control how foods were manufactured in Japan, according to Eoghan Daly, policy and technical advisor for food at the Institute of Food Safety Integrity and Protection.
Since the nuclear accident at Fukushima in Japan in 2011, food produced for export around the former nuclear plant had to be labelled and tested for radiation before leaving the country. It would then be tested at the UK border again, according to UK regulations.
“But there’s a genuine issue about transparency,” said Daly. “The certification on products coming from those control regions is based on trust, which can be broken quite easily by, say, fraudsters.
“It doesn’t cost a lot to put a more sophisticated system in place that could collect data about where a product has come from, which would be captured electronically during production,” he added.
Quality assurance systems based on trust were vulnerable to fraud, as was highlighted during the 2013 horsemeat scandal, Steve Osborn, principal consultant at the Aurora Ceres Partnership and a former business innovations manager at Leatherhead Food Research, said.
“If someone wants to carry out criminal activity, then they’re going to do it and a trust-based system is more open to this.”
However, there was no evidence mislabelled foods from the Fukushima nuclear disaster area were being sold in the UK, a Food Standards Agency spokesman said.
Nuclear reactor breakdown
There were important regulations in place as a result of the Fukushima nuclear reactor meltdown in 2011, he said. These included the random testing of food produced in the region.
Radioactivity had not been detected in incoming food from Japan above the restriction levels, he added.
Although the potential health impact of consuming contaminated food from regions near to Fukushima was low, it was not impossible, added Daly.
The risk, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), would come from the radioactive isotope caesium, which, once eaten, can stay in the body for decades and increases the risk of cancer. Levels of caesium in foods from Fukushima are low, according to WHO experts.