Only 25 Percent of Americans Say They Would Buy Japanese-Imported Food Following Fukushima Disaster RELEASED AT THE 2011 IFT ANNUAL MEETING & FOOD EXPO

June 14, 2011

NEW ORLEANS – Despite rigorous testing and assurances from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that seafood and other food products imported from Japan are safe for consumption, three in four Americans in a recent study said they were not ready to purchase food from Japan, according to research presented at a symposium at the 2011 Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Annual Meeting & Food Expo®.

More than 200 Americans were surveyed May 20-23 on perceptions and concerns pertaining to food imports from Japan following the March 11, 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami, flooding and radiation leaks at the Fukushima Nuclear Power, according to Aurora A. Saulo, Ph.D., extension specialist in food technology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

While 61 percent of respondents reported feeling “protected” by U.S. regulations and federal agency efforts to protect the nation’s food supply, only 25 percent said they were comfortable buying food and seafood imported from Japan.

The key feelings described by respondents in the study entitled, “Food, Fear and Fury,” were “suspicious and nervous,” said Saulo. “Latent distrust remains even when (specific) concerns seem absent. There does not seem anything that can be done to change people’s behavior right now. Emotions clearly affect the current level of interest in buying foods from Japan.”

Patricia Hansen, Ph.D., senior advisor for science and policy in the FDA’s Center for Food Safety, outlined the “rapidly evolving” series of events that followed the earthquake in Japan, and the agency’s efforts to quickly assess, monitor and ensure safety of the U.S. food supply.

“Our initial focus was gathering and confirming information,” said Hansen. The FDA established an incident management group, formal interagency communications with the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and reached out to Hawaii, Alaska, U.S. territories and the west coast states most at risk from the effects of the disaster.

Hansen said Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare was in regular contact with the FDA, and vigorously monitored and reported any food-related problems. In mid-May, Japan confirmed the presence of radiation in spinach and milk, and more recently, other vegetables. These products were voluntarily removed from export by Japan, and safeguards were put in place to ensure that these products did not enter the U.S., said Hansen. In addition, the FDA implemented additional food testing via stationery and deployable monitors on Japanese food product imports, which continues today.

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