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Agriculture

Japan resumes rice exports from Fukushima

Rice harvested near the site of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster is set to go back on sale. Exporters are trying to rebuild the Fukushima brand but consumers are still wary of potentially contaminated food.

Japan will begin exporting rice grown in Fukushima for the first time since foreign sales were interrupted two years ago over fears of radioactive contamination, officials said Tuesday.

It will be the first time rice grown in Fukushima prefecture, which hosts the disabled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, has been sold abroad since rice was exported to Hong Kong in 2012, the AFP news agency quoted an unnamed official in Fukushima as saying.

"Despite our efforts at explaining the safety of Fukushima-made farm products, up until now we have not been able to find retailers who wished to trade rice grown in Fukushima," said a spokesman from the National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations (Zen-Noh), a major wholesaler of Japanese agricultural products.

Zen-Noh said it will send an initial 300-kilogram batch to Singapore, where it will be portioned into 5-kilogram bags and sold starting Friday at local supermarkets. The federation said it aims to export more Fukushima rice, including more to Singapore.

The provenance will be marked and the rice will not be mixed with other produce, an official said.

The rice was grown 60-80 kilometers west of the devastated Fukushima nuclear plant.

Before the 2011 nuclear disaster, Fukushima was a key agricultural area for rice, peaches and apples, exporting many tons every year, chiefly to Hong Kong and Taiwan.

The accident, however, tarnished the Fukushima brand both domestically and internationally.

Three years on, Japan's tragedy not over

Local officials insist on the brand's safety, saying there is no risk from consuming rice grown in the prefecture, an area approximately the size of Northern Ireland.

But despite government assurances, farmers from the region have struggled to attract buyers for their produce.

"All rice grown in Fukushima is being checked for radioactivity before being shipped to market," another Fukushima official said.

"Our rice is proved to have passed the government safety standard of 100 becquerels per kilogram, and is mostly below detection levels" of measuring instruments, he added, referring to a measure of radioactive contamination.

In 2012 Fukushima peaches and apples were exported to Thailand. Fruit exports to Malaysia also resumed last year, according to officials.

el/cjc (AFP, Zen-Noh)

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