Excessive politicking in the country, particularly with the Simpang Jeram and Pulai by-elections in Johor, should not drown out our legitimate concerns about food imports from Japan.
A number of countries have raised the alert following Japan’s decision to release its treated radioactive water from the tsunami-hit Fukushima Daaiichi nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean on 24 August.
This is despite Japan’s assurance that the water has been neutralised while the International Atomic Energy Agency said the released water is currently within safe limits.
In 2021 Japan announced it would release more than 1.25 million tonnes of treated Fukushima radioactive waste water into the sea as part of its plan to decommission the power station when its storage capacity reached its limit.
People in Malaysia have good reasons to be concerned about the potential health risks involved. It pays to be vigilant.
According to health director general Muhammad Radzi Abu Hassan, the Ministry of Health’s data showed that from 2022 until June 2023, fish food products and fish products are among the major products imported from Japan, followed by fruits, vegetables, processed food and beverages, with a total value of RM880m.
In other words, Malaysia’s consumption of imported Japanese products is substantial as well as a cause for concern.
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This explains the posting that has made its rounds on social media, cautioning people in Malaysia about the risk of buying and eating food products from Japan.
Consonant with such concerns, the Ministry of Health plans to impose a Level 4 inspection for radioactive materials on high-risk Japanese food imports at the country’s entrance.
In a move to allay fears among concerned people in Malaysia, the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry will install four more gamma spectrum water monitoring stations (GSWMs) in Malaysian waters to monitor the presence of radioactive waste water released from the nuclear power plant.
Minister Chang Lih Kang said there are existing GSWMs in Sabah waters monitoring any increase in radioactivity levels in real-time as an early warning detection system.
The release of the radioactive waste water has also highlighted another significant factor: the country’s food security.
Our heavy dependence on imported agro-food products, which largely reflects the neglect of our agricultural sector over the years, has made us vulnerable to the vagaries of world supplies.
Malaysia’s dependence on agro-food imports is worrying, standing at RM64bn against exports of RM39bn in 2021.
The Statistics Department reported that food imports amounted to RM483bn over the last 10 years, while exports amounted to RM296bn.
It stated that in order to meet the needs and demands of Malaysian consumers, food products from other countries – namely onions, potatoes, dairy products, cooking oil, coffee, tea, wheat flour and shallots – have to be imported.
The report added that over 70% of imported mutton came from Australia, while mango, coconut and beef came primarily from Thailand, Indonesia and India respectively.
Geopolitical issues and the Russia-Ukraine conflict also have an impact on our economy.
The Malaysian government must therefore take concrete steps to increase the local production of food items for home consumption.
Acknowledging the importance of accelerating agricultural production, Agriculture and Food Security Minister Mohamad Sabu pointed to measures such as increasing funding for R&D in agriculture, and the use of innovation and mitigation measures to address the threat of climate change.
There are enough grounds for a long-term plan towards having impressive food security. The Japanese incident should serve as a wake-up call. – The Malaysian Insight