by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: IAEA
POLITICS WOULD be behind much of the contestation in Taiwan about whether the ban on Japanese food from areas affected by radiation from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster should be lifted. Taiwan has banned food imports from Japan’s Fukushima, Tochigi, Gunma, Chiba, and Ibaraki prefectures since 2011 and it is currently debated whether, five years after the disaster, the food ban should be lifted. Premier Lin Chuan has stated that the ban is to be gradually lifted, although more public hearings are to be held on the issue.
The issue is reminiscent of political debates about whether American pork imports treated with the growth hormone ractopamine should be allowed into Taiwan. Though the KMT is not the only political party to question the food safety of allowing ractopamine-treated pork or possibly irradiated food from Japanese prefectures near Fukushima into Taiwan, seeing as the New Power Party has also raised the issue in the past, it has in both cases attempted to use the issue to target the Tsai administration with the claim that the Tsai administration was playing dangerous games with food safety in Taiwan.
With regard to American pork, it seems likely that the KMT was aiming to place a hurdle to building closer ties between Taiwan and America by preventing American pork imports from entering Taiwan. Allowing American pork to enter Taiwan is often seen as a precondition to admittance for Taiwan into the American-led TPP trade agreement. This would be a way of building stronger security ties between America and Taiwan through forging stronger economic ties.
This is probably also the case with food imports from Japan, seeing as the Abe administration has attempted not only to tout the safety of food from radiation-affected prefectures after the Fukushima incident but also to increase international tourism to the Fukushima prefecture despite worries of continued radiation. Such actions are in line with the Abe administration’s adamant support of nuclear energy, despite the fact that this continues to be a controversial and much-protested issue in post-Fukushima Japan. Presumably, allowing food from radiation-affected prefectures into Taiwan would also serve to build closer security ties between Taiwan and Japan on the basis of economic ties, similar to America and the issue of ractopamine-treated pork. Indeed, Lin Chuan has suggested that the gradual lift on the ban on food imports from Japan was lifted because of Japanese government pressure.
In the case of both ractopamine-treated pork and food from radiation-affected Japanese prefectures, advocates of stronger security ties between America and Taiwan or Japan and Taiwan have attempted to paint those who have called attention to possible threats to food safety as irrational, or “anti-science”. But actually, ractopamine-treated pork is banned in 160 of the world’s 200 or so countries, with the American FDA having been criticized for insufficient testing to prove that ractopamine-treated pork is safe for human consumption when the majority of the world’s countries ban ractopamine-treated pork. Ractopamine-treated pork imports from the United States have been a matter of controversy not only in Taiwan, but in China, Russia, and Malaysia as well.
It is also correct to raise concerns about food from radiation-affected prefectures in Japan. Restrictions on the circulation of information within Japan passed under the Abe administration in the name of state secrecy laws have placed further impediments on testing how radiation has affected produce in the areas of Japan affected by radiation from the Fukushima disaster.
And the continued push of the Abe administration for nuclear energy despite outbursts of strong public opposition is likely a sign of how deep set ties are between the nuclear industry in Japan with the developmentalist state, the energy industry in Japan enjoying close ties with the state even after ostensible privatization. The Abe administration’s inflexibility on the matter sometimes seems to border on the politically irrational, given how contested the issue is, and the Abe administration has made it a high priority to try and encourage tourism and resettlement of radiation-affected areas.
Accordingly, it is probably right to ask questions about the Abe administration’s claims about food safety. It may be quite correct, as the New Power Party advocates, for there to be the establishment of an independent Taiwan-Japan commission to investigate food safety before any lifting of the current import ban is rushed through. Even if food safety sometimes provokes hysterical responses, this is hardly irrational, “anti-science” fear of contaminated food at work, but rather that government irresponsibility on the part of both the Taiwanese and Japanese government makes it hard to trust government claims. As a result, independent third party investigation may be necessary.
In the case of the KMT’s opposition to ractopamine-treated pork or food from prefectures affected by radiation, this is more or less opportunistic in nature, with the KMT jumping onto the bandwagon to bash the DPP. Under past KMT administrations, the KMT had been in favor of allowing ractopamine-treated pork enter Taiwan, while it was the DPP as the political opposition which opposed American pork imports. Unsurprisingly, the KMT is latching onto to any issue it can use to make the DPP look bad in the KMT’s moment of political crisis.
But the KMT has itself allowed the perpetrators of food scandals in the past to get off with relatively little punishment, as seen in the succession of food scandals which occurred under the Ma administration. Sometimes this happened because of the close ties between perpetrators of food scandals and the state, perhaps not so different from the Abe administration’s defensiveness of the nuclear energy industry in Japan. If the KMT is currently pushing the issue of food from radiation-affected areas in Japan, it does so only for its own purposes.