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Fukushima food exports to Malaysia rise as radiation stigma fades

 
KUALA LUMPUR - Fukushima Prefecture aims to export 100 tons of rice and 15 tons of peaches to Malaysia by next year, its governor said Wednesday, evidence of fading concern over the safety of food products from the site of the 2011 nuclear disaster.

"In the aftermath of the earthquake and the nuclear plant incident, the agriculture sector suffered very much. We have to deal with negative rumor. But things are slowly recovering," Gov. Masao Uchibori said at a press conference in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.

"We inspect 100 percent of the rice and are working hard to bridge the gap between perception and reality."

Malaysia began importing rice from Fukushima in May, and has brought in 29 tons so far, Ajwad Abu Hassan, the managing director of Malaysia rice importer Edaran Komachi Sdn., said at the same press conference.

Ajwad said his company aims to import another 48 tons by year-end, and even greater amounts eventually.

"Fukushima produces the best quality rice in Japan. We are proud to sell this rice," said Ajwad. "We are targeting 100 metric tons a year hopefully. In fact, we are trying to increase from not only 100 metric tons but a container full every month."

A full shipping container holds about 12 tons.

Akumul Abu Hassan, the managing director of another rice trading company, MHC Co. Ltd, said Malaysia currently consumes about 350 tons of Japonica rice a month imported from various parts of the world including South Korea, Vietnam and China. Only 20 to 30 tons comes from Japan, and that from other prefectures such as Akita, Niigata, Hokkaido and Hiroshima.

But Akumul said when it comes to quality, nothing beats rice from Japan.

"Compare to rice from Japan, that from Vietnam, 5 percent will contain broken grains. You don't find that in rice from Japan," Akumul said.

Malaysia began importing Fukushima peaches a year after the disaster, and Takashi Kanno, appearing at the same press conference as a representative of the National Federation of Agricultural Cooperatives, said "Malaysia was one of the first countries to accept and give us an opportunity."

From almost zero in 2012, Fukushima exported 1.2 tons of peaches to Malaysia in 2013, increasing to 7.3 tons last year and 9.5 tons so far this year.

Fukushima is the second-largest peach producing prefecture in Japan after Yamanashi.

Uchibori said after meeting with trading companies involved in exporting peaches, the federation has set a goal of selling 15 tons a year to Malaysia, as peaches are now being sent by ship instead of by air, which will lower the cost.

Fukushima Prefecture also exports broccoli, shiitake mushrooms and persimmons to Malaysia.

© KYODO

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