Relax - food from Japan really is safe

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 December, 2011, 12:00am


Japan's food safety standards are famously among the highest in the world. That is in large part why Japanese supermarkets are so popular in Hong Kong and baby formula from the country has been favoured by so many mothers. But food producer Meiji's recall last week of a batch of formula after detecting radioactive caesium in samples caused some parents to think twice. They should not be alarmed: strict regulations stand Japanese products in good stead.

Still, some shops selling the affected product, Step formula in 850 gram cans, thought otherwise. They withdrew cans from sale even though they were not from the affected batch and despite assurances by Meiji that the levels of caesium detected were so small they posed no health risk. Hong Kong's Centre for Food Safety has so far also determined that there is no cause for concern.

All involved in the manufacture and monitoring of the product have done what is right, and though there is a need to be alert, safety mechanisms remain sturdy. While that may be the case as far as Japanese goods are concerned, the same cannot be said for all the food brought into Hong Kong. Unofficial distributors importing grey-market products can avoid labelling requirements, creating risks where there should be none. Some food from Japan bypasses our regulations, but at least its quality can be assured because it has already met Japanese standards. That is not the case for produce that slips in from less reliable sources.

The radiation leak from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, wrecked by last March's earthquake and tsunami, prompted Japanese authorities to impose even higher standards. Hong Kong's inspectors have increased vigilance, barring produce that has not met requirements. Understanding and common sense, not panic, are needed at such times. Of course, when it comes to food safety, there is always an element of risk. But if we are to have faith in what we buy, the first place we should vest that faith is in food from Japan in the absence of proof to the contrary.