October 1, 2013 1:49 pm

Japanese fast-food chain Yoshinoya to sell Fukushima produce

Japanese farmers plant rice seedlings with a machine at Tamura city, 15km west of stricken TEPCO's nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture on May 18, 2013. Farmers have resumed planting rice for market only 15 kilometres (nine miles) from Japan's crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, a local official said on May 22. It was the first time since the March 2011 earthquake-tsunami-nuclear disaster that farmers have gone inside the former 20-kilometre 'no-go' zone around the doomed plant to sow rice intended for sale©Getty

Farmers plant rice seedlings at Tamura city, in Fukushima prefecture

A Japanese fast-food chain has set up a joint venture to produce and market food from the Fukushima prefecture a region badly affected by the nuclear accident that followed the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Yoshinoya will provide funds through a joint venture held with local farmers who will grow rice and vegetables in the region, produce which could then make it on to the tables of the 1,175 restaurants the chain operates in Japan.

The joint venture, Yoshinoya Farm Fukushima Co, will begin cultivating rice, onions and cabbages from next year with an investment of Y10m ($102,000) from the company.

The anticipated production volume of 35 tonnes is about a thousandth of what the chain needs annually to produce its meals. None of the produce will be used in its restaurants elsewhere in Asia or the US. Given that the volumes will be so low, the aim of the project is to help the region’s nascent recovery a spokesperson for the company said on Tuesday.

Yoshinoya is already involved in a similar project in Kanagawa, an area bordering Tokyo, as it studies possibilities for producing the raw ingredients it needs itself. Farmers in Fukushima had already been exploring the possibility of a similar link-up before 2011, but that project was put on ice following the earthquake.

Farmers have been one of the worst affected groups following the earthquake and tsunami, events which precipitated the accident from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

There is a 20km exclusion zone around the Daiichi site but farmers have returned to other parts of the prefecture which covers more than 13,000km.

Agricultural production for the region plummeted 20.6 per cent to Y185.1bn in 2011, according to data from the agriculture ministry.

Some farmers began returning to their plots in Fukushima last year but their efforts have been hampered by fears over the safety of produce from the region, with concerns that nuclear contamination following the problems at the facility could affect crops for decades.

Rice, vegetables, fruits and eggs exported from the region to elsewhere in Japan are tested locally each week for signs of radioactive contamination.

Earlier this month Seoul extended a ban on fish imports from eight Japanese prefectures along the northeast coast to ease consumer worries about their safety after it was revealed that contaminated water had begun to leak from the Fukushima plant. The ban, originally covering 50 fishery products, now includes all fish imports.

There are some government subsidies available for projects which will assist the Fukushima region’s recovery, but it is unclear whether Yoshinoya will be eligible to apply for these.

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