Japanese radiation impact hits local importers and specialty food stores

Bob Matsuyama, owner of Angel Seafoods, a major Vancouver-based distributor of Japanese seafood and food supplies, says the radiation scare in Northeastern Japan could affect the foods that Canadians eat for some time. 

"It (the radiation)'s definitely affected our business," he said. "Right now, it's a small degree, but the impact could be a lot bigger, and we may have to source our food from outside Japan."

Matsuyama was surprised to hear about a statement on Canada Food Inspection Agency's website, which says that "Japanese products currently available for sale in Canada were shipped prior to the earthquake and, therefore, would not have been affected by radiological contamination resulting form the Japan nuclear situation."

"The wording might have been misunderstood, but there have been imports since the quake," he said, noting that food imported from Japan has been going through rigorous inspection, and that his company's products so far were found to be safe. 

"Most of our seafood comes from southern Japan, which is quite far from where the earthquake took place, but some of our produce, like nagaimo (a type of potato grown in northern Japan) hasn't been coming through."

With radiation now being detected in food in areas near the damaged nuclear plant in Japan, Matsuyama feels that the situation could have a long-lasting effect on Japanese food imports to Vancouver. 

According to the Canada Food Inspection Agency, Canada imported about $42.6 million in agricultural food products from Japan in 2010. While this makes up less than 0.3 per cent of all food imported into Canada, it will be a blow to specialty stores that sell Japanese products.

However, local stores say that Canadian customers have so far not been on edge about the possibility of radiation in their Japan-imported foods.

Gigi Taviss of South China Seas Trading Company, a specialty store that focuses on international foods including many items from Japan, said that no one so far has even mentioned radiation in their food.  

 "You're the first person who's asked me about this," she laughed. "I think it really hasn't quite taken an effect yet -- our customers really haven't been asking us about it."

Taviss said radiation will probably affect products such as nori, dried seaweed, much of which comes from Japan's north coast. However, she says the food on shelves right now should be safe, as they have not had any orders come through since the earthquake.   

"The suppliers would notify us if anything couldn't be shipped because of what's going on there," she said. 

One of prominent supplier for Japanese food, Nishimoto Trading Company, assures that the Japanese products being sold in stores currently is safe. 

"We haven't had any stock come in from Japan since the earthquake," said Hidetsugu Tsuji, a manager for Nishimoto Trading's Vancouver branch. He said that while the price of Japanese imports has increased, it's not necessarily because of the disasters in that country.

"The price hikes have been due to a number of things, such as the high oil prices and shortage of flour," he said. "It's not necessarily tied to the earthquake." 

Asked how the currrent radiation warnings in Japan might impact Nishimoto Trading's business and Canadian consumers, Tsuji replied that he was uncertain. 

"I don't really have anything to comment. It all depends on the Canadian government." 

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