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No Philippine ban on Japan food, except chocolate

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The Philippines has suspended imports of Japanese chocolate made with milk from areas near a radiation-leaking nuclear plant but has not imposed a general ban on food products from Japan, officials said Friday.

Samples of food from Japan such as rice, noodles, chocolate and biscuits that had been checked for radiation contamination were found to be safe, Health Secretary Enrique Ona said.

"There are no findings of any products coming from Japan that is of any health danger to our people," Ona said.

He said there will be continuous testing of imported food products from Japan, especially those from four prefectures affected by radiation from the damaged nuclear plant — Fukushima, Ibaraki, Gunma and Tochigi.

Milk chocolate from the four areas, on the other hand, was banned outright, after an order from Efren Nuestro, an official with the Bureau of Animal Industry, which is responsible for the safety of animal products.

That seemed to contradict a statement from the Food and Drug Administration, which is in charge of processed foods and said no products had been banned.

Nazarita Tacandong, a director of the FDA, said she would clarify the Animal Bureau's ban, since chocolate is a processed food. She did not say whether the suspension could be immediately lifted.

The Philippines does not import fresh meat products from Japan. But Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Director Malcolm Sarmiento said fish imported from Japan, mostly mackerel for canning in the Philippines, will have to be tested for radiation contamination before they are cleared for release by customs.

He said fish caught outside Japanese waters but stored in Japan will still have to undergo testing.

Those found to have radiation levels harmful to humans would be returned to Japan or destroyed here, he said.

The country imported about 4,000 tons of mackerel in 2009, he said.

Although Japan is the Philippines' second largest trading partner, the bulk of its imports consist of electronic goods and transport equipment.

Vegetable seeds, seedlings and apples and pears, which come into the country during the Christmas season, are the only fresh plant products imported from Japan, according to the Bureau of Plant Industry. (AP-Oliver Teves)




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