S. Korea imposes stricter ban on Japan imports

Beginning on Monday, Korea will ban all fishery imports from eight Japanese prefectures surrounding the tsunami-crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant. The ban, which has hitherto been limited to 50 items, is tightened to address consumers' mounting concerns about the radiation contamination of fish and other seafood imported from Japan.

A growing number of consumers are shunning marine products, be they of Korean origin or imported, apparently because they are worried about radiation contamination. Consumer suspicions about fishery imports from Japan have been fueled by a recent disclosure that hundreds of tons of radioactive water has been flowing from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific each day.

Japan has demanded in the past that Korea make a decision based on scientific data, claiming that only a small area was affected by the radiation. But its credibility was undermined when Tokyo Electric Power Co., the beleaguered operator of the Fukushima plant, withdrew denials last month and acknowledged that toxic groundwater was leaking into the Pacific at a rate of 400 tons a day.

Korea's vice fisheries minister was apparently referring to this episode involving TEPCO when he complained on Friday that information received from Japan was not trustworthy enough to make a proper judgment about the contamination of fish and other seafood from the eight coastal prefectures covered by the ban.

Moreover, many voiced skepticism when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe promised Wednesday to contain the radioactive water by building a large underground wall of frozen earth around the disabled reactors.

When it decided to tighten the screws on contaminated fishery imports from Japan last week, the Korean government aimed mainly at addressing consumers' concerns about the health risks they posed.

At the same time, the Korean government apparently wanted to arrest a rapid fall in the consumption of fish and other seafood in general. It was not just imports but those of Korean origin that were not selling well. Mass retailers, such as Emart and Lotte Mart, reported double-digit decreases in monthly sales.

The government had to assure consumers that fish and other seafood of Korean origin were safe before it was accused by an angry fishing industry of failing to take proper action against the plunge in sales. Still, sales showed few signs of picking up, forcing the retailers to cut their prices.

The ban on all fishery imports from the eight Japanese prefectures is the sternest measure the Korean government has taken to restore consumer confidence in domestically sold fish and other seafood since the Fukushima reactors were first wrecked in March 2011. At the moment, it has nothing much left to do but keep its fingers crossed.

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