WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States has announced it was barring some food imports from Japan due to fears of radiation and nuclear contamination in the wake of an earthquake and tsunami disaster.
The US Food and Drug Administration said it had placed an import alert on all milk, milk products, fresh vegetables and fruits from certain regions.
This means that no products of these types from the prefectures of Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma can enter the United States without first being shown to be safe.
"In addition, FDA will continue to flag all entries from Japan in order to determine whether they originated from the affected area. FDA will test all food and feed shipments from the affected area," an email statement said.
"FDA import investigators operating at ports of entry have radiation detection devices (radiation pagers) available to them for their personal safety," the statement added.
"These radiation pagers are extremely sensitive and can help to identify shipments of potential concern to target for laboratory analysis."
The twin quake and tsunami disaster, Japan's worst crisis since World War II, has left nearly 23,000 people dead or missing, with entire communities along the northeast coast swept away.
Shell-shocked Japan faces an invisible threat from radiation seeping from the Fukushima plant, which lies just 250 kilometers (155 miles) from the greater Tokyo area and its 30 million inhabitants.
Asked about the FDA ruling in an interview with Japan's NHK news network, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that "what is most important is making sure that we help Japan deal with the after-effects of whatever occurred inside the reactors and that we also make sure the Japanese people have all the food that they need during this transition period."
The ruling, she added, speaking before the announcement was made, would be "as much focused on determining what is or isn't safe for the Japanese people, not just what is safe for export."
Japan has halted shipments of some foodstuffs in nearby prefectures after the discovery of higher-than-normal levels of radiation in milk and certain vegetables, but it insists there is no health hazard.
Raw milk in Ibaraki prefecture and broccoli in Fukushima were the latest products to show levels of radioactive materials beyond legal limits, Kyodo News said.
France earlier Tuesday urged the European Commission to impose "systematic controls" on imports of fresh produce from Japan into the EU, amid fears of nuclear contamination.
France itself has already introduced such checks on food imports from Japan.
Last week the EU urged countries to check Japanese food imports for radiation, with the bloc's energy chief criticising Tokyo's handling of a nuclear crisis he said was now "in the hands of God".
The European Commission spokesman for health issues, Frederic Vincent, has said that the EU imported 9,000 tonnes of fruits and vegetables from Japan in 2010.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has meanwhile identified "trace amounts of radioactive iodine, cesium, and tellurium" associated with the nuclear crisis in air monitors set up on the US West Coast.
The agency emphasized in a statement, however, that the the radiation levels detected on the filters from California and Washington monitors "are hundreds of thousands to millions of times below levels of concern."