September 8th, 2011
03:46 AM GMT
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(CNN) – Kei San is a Japanese chef who lives in Hong Kong. He also hosts a television cooking show showcasing Japanese seafood.

Lucky for him, his uncle is a fisherman in Hokkaido who supplies him with succulent Hokkaido scallops. But his uncle has seen his business plummet more than 50% because of the nuclear crisis in Fukushima. Even though Hokkaido is 840 kilometers from the nuclear site, the global concern over radioactive contamination has hurt all Japanese food exports.

"My uncle is 60 years old and he's thinking of retiring early. Business is so bad he's basically taking a few months off as a vacation," Kei San says.

Six months after the March 11 trio of calamities – earthquake, tsunami then nuclear disaster – sales of sushi, soba, ramen and other Japanese food industry staples has not fully recovered – and it may be some time before it does. The main obstacle is the lingering doubts about the safety of Japanese food both in Japan and overseas.

These concerns flared up again in July when the Japanese government detected radioactive cesium in Japanese beef that was higher than government safety levels. Inspectors believe the beef was from cattle that had eaten contaminated rice straw.

Dennis Tokuaki Wu is knows the food industry faces an uphill battle to regain public trust in Japanese food.  He's the managing director of his family business Aji-No-Chinmi Co. The company supplies Japanese food products to 7-11 convenience stores, SOGO department store, supermarkets APITA and Jusco in Hong Kong. His company's total sales last year were $12.9 million. The nuclear disaster caused a 30% drop in sales so far this year. With the help of in-store promotions, sales are starting to recover lost ground. But it wasn't until July when he started to see a significant rebound in his business.

He deals directly with 10 Japanese farmers and is trying to convince them to conduct their own radiation checks on their crops and issue certificates of guarantee. Wu believes showcasing these certificates on packaging will win back consumers.  This is in addition to the food inspections the Japanese government already does before food is exported. The farmers are in favor of the idea but cannot afford the cost of voluntary testing. While some local governments subsidize the farmers in their testing, not all farmers are covered.  Wu and the farmers are trying to push provincial governments to help pay for the tests.

Before the nuclear crisis in March, Japanese food safety was already heralded as one of the strictest in the world. Since the crisis, the Japanese government has tightened the guidelines on exports.

Different countries have instituted different safety regulations when it comes to Japanese food. According to Japan's Agriculture Ministry, the EU requires radioactive test results of food coming in from 12 specific prefectures. In Hong Kong, Japanese imports are tested upon entry.

"The Hong Kong government sends 3 or 4 people with handy scans to our warehouse, before we even open the container, they'll scan first and they'll even bring samples back to the lab. It's like a double test. "Wu says.

Chef Kei San has adjusted his business operations to accommodate public concern. In his online frozen seafood store, he now offers products from other countries. "I can see still some people are afraid of Japanese seafood products. So I may slow down the import of Japanese products. It's not 100% Japanese anymore." He sells sashimi-quality fish from Europe and shrimp from Argentina in order to give his customers a choice.

The Japanese food industry has been forced to change and adapt after the disaster. But there’s no guarantee the next six months will be any easier.

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Filed under: BusinessHong KongJapan


soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. chris

    Well, to be honest, I will also avoid Japanese food. That is because Japanese food exporters and restaurants now have a conflict of interest. And in time we will see some black sheep.

    September 8, 2011 at 5:09 am |
  2. Abu

    Ok, risk has a price. The Japanese restaurants are expensive to dine in, usually. Then you add the radioactive risk, and japanes food becomes not so sellable. How about cutting the price by half? Then a lot more people can afford to dine Japanese. When it is cheap, people forget about the risk.

    September 8, 2011 at 6:15 am |
  3. muhammad.imranali

    Allah

    September 8, 2011 at 7:09 am |
  4. hank

    Unlucky Japan.. just unlucky.

    September 8, 2011 at 11:33 am |
  5. Kim

    I have absolutely no fear over eating any Japanese food for the facts are people are ignorant. They hear higher than normal radiation and think they'll get radiation poisoning if you eat one or two portions of the food. In all actuality, you need to eat unhuman amounts of the food or drink on a daily basis for up to a year to feel any adverse effect. However, most people do not look further than hearing 'higher than normal' and condemn it. It's sad. I hope their market rebounds soon.

    September 8, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
  6. narfzort

    wrong. you can be quite affected if you eat the wrong kind of poisoned seafood. investigate some facts before you make ignorant medical statements. if there was no worry about eating such food, then there would be no problem, right?

    September 8, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
  7. samod ojoye

    God pleases come and help us all

    September 8, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
  8. samod ojoye

    it is only God that can help ua

    September 8, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
  9. Thinkr

    Clearly some fish and agricultural products are highly contaminated. And, testing is sketchy at best...

    So, rather than play russian roulette where the consequences are a horrible and slow death or genetic defects for future generations - best to wait until the radioactive materials cool off a bit.

    24,500 years would be a good start.

    Same goes for Japanese beef. And, Japanese mushrooms. And, it is not that clear that certain products from the western US and Canada are that safe.

    Many of the radioactive contaminations concentrate in food chain so things will probably get worse before they get better...

    September 8, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  10. qwedie

    I had some radioactive sashimi this weekend, it was good and made me feel warm allover.

    September 8, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  11. Thinkr

    Check out enenews (remove this dot) com for news coverage of the Fukushima disaster and its consequences.

    September 8, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
  12. Thinkr

    Poison Shitake ?

    enenews (remove this dot) com/indoor-mushrooms-contain-1770-bqkg-radioactive-cesium-govt-determining

    Foods contaminated outside of the 'exclusion zone'

    enenews (remove this dot) com/radiation-fallout-poses-growing-threat-2600-cattle-contaminated-vegetables-unsafe-levels-centralized-system-only-voluntary-tests

    Radioactive fallout testing in California (by U.C. Berkeley)

    enenews (remove this dot) com/strawberries-mushrooms-with-cesium-137-found-in-northern-california-5-out-of-6-items-in-food-chain-sampling-test-have-radioactive-particles

    September 8, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
  13. o.f

    all methods how to avoid/exact of radioactives from food/water/soil is wanted,and now soon deed!!

    September 12, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
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