S. Korea Olympic team to screen its food over Fukushima radiation concerns

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South Korea’s Olympic team will cook food for its athletes separately and screen ingredients for radiation during the Tokyo Olympics, an official said on Monday, a potential further irritant to frayed Seoul-Tokyo relations around the Games.

South Korea has periodically irked Japan with such steps as curbingimports of Japanese seafood, citing safety concerns after the 2011 Fukushima tsunami and nuclear disaster.

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A spokesperson for the Korean Sport & Olympic Committee said it has booked a hotel near the Olympic village to prepare and deliver boxed meals to its athletes, adding that the country has run its own food programs at every Olympic Games to help its athletes feel at home.

Relations between the two Asian neighbors, already at a low ebb amid feuds over territorial claims and their wartime history, were further dented on Monday when Seoul said President Moon Jae-in would not visit the Games, which open on Friday, for what would have been his first summit with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

The South Korean team, at the request of the International Olympic Committee, removed banners with an historic reference to a 16th-century war with Japan from the their Olympic village accommodation balconies in Japan.

‘Recovery Olympics’ struggling

It is not uncommon for countries to bring their own chefs to the Olympics -- the United States served its own food at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

But the South Korean team has also stepped up its food safety checks at the Tokyo Games to gauge radioactive caesium levels, with its own chefs preparing about 400 meals a day.

“We are doing screening tests for caesium in food ingredients from kimchi we are bringing from home to other items including Japanese ingredients,” said the South Korean Olympic spokesperson, who asked not to be named.

Japan’s top government spokesman, Katsunobu Kato, declined to comment on South Korea’s separate training table, but he said the organizers use ingredients that meet their standards and disclose their origin.

In 2019 South Korea largely won a dispute with Japan at the World Trade Organization over Seoul’s import bans and testing requirements on Japanese seafood.

Japan had originally billed the Games, which were postponed by one year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as a “recovery Olympics” from the devastation of a decade ago, including by promoting Fukushima produce. Organizers say such food will be safe when served at the Olympics.

The World Health Organization said in 2016 that the Japanese authorities had monitored food contamination closely and implemented protective measures to prevent sale and distribution of contaminated food in Japan and outside of Japan.

Still, the organizers withdrew plans to label food from the prefecture and the other nuclear disaster-hit regions at the Olympic village because of protests from some countries, the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper reported on Monday, citing an unnamed organizing committee official.

The organizers did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Japan has said many nations such as the United States and Australia had lifted or eased Fukushima-related restrictions and Fukushima food including rice is being exported to markets like Thailand.

Read more: US First Lady Jill Biden to travel to Japan for Olympics: White House

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