Home > Food, Japan, Special Report > Japanese government wants you to eat radioactive food: Part V

Japanese government wants you to eat radioactive food: Part V

May 12, 2012

Standards for radiation have been changing a lot, and there are many unanswered questions about the health effects of low dose radiation in food. Source: AP.

This is part of a special on Japanese food. For part IV click here.

The Japanese government, shortly after, reversed its decision and eased restrictions on some foods (here), like rice and beef – and the problems have not gone away. It also changed the standards for radiation allowed in food and water, though this is a rather unknown story. In the case of water, it was done overnight, and allowed the government to claim that water, which would be considered unsafe on Thursday, was suddenly safe the next Monday. They simply increased the amount of allowable contaminants in the water supply from the older standards by 30-fold, in the case of iodine (10 Bq/lr to 300 Bq/lr; see this report for a detailed English explanation & here). This was was apparently done on March 17th. If this information is correct, it would mean the high radiation found in Tokyo’s water supply (reported en masse on March 23rd), would have failed the old standard because it had just been changed. CBS reports that one test showed “210 becquerels of iodine-131 per liter,” which they classified as “twice the recommended limit” for children,” but still below the 300 Bq/lr standard for adults. If this is correct, then the only reason the water limit was deemed safe was due to manipulation of the safety levels (here). A cynic might say the Japanese knew the water levels would rise and adjusted the safety limits in anticipation of it.

Be that as it may, the case of food is magnitudes worse (iodine in water is no longer a concern as it is an early byproduct with short half-life). In July it was reported that large amounts of beef with levels of caesium above the government’s safety standard had entered into the food chain (here). Apparently farmers had fed their cows radioactive grain, and their cows had slipped through an inadequate food screening process, ending up on the plates of people all over Japan. Some was even fed to elementary school children in their lunches (here). Though the beef scare is old news, little has improved for food in general, reports Bloomberg, which says that the current checks on Japanese food “nationwide so far are only 1 percent of what Belarus checked in the past year” (here). The government’s position at the time is that even those levels posed no short-term safety risk (yes, they usually avoided saying long-term).

The Japanese themselves have admitted to having inadequate testing equipment and personnel needed to ensure large-scale checks. The Yomiuri newspaper wrote on August 11th that “Many local governments complain they do not have time to inspect rice crops.” In Akita Prefecture, “The maximum number of food samples that can be checked a day is 10,” and the 30 private labs were inundated with other work. Yomiuri puts the numbers into perspective: of all the untold numbers of products from March 11th to the writing of the article on August 11, Fukushima Prefecture is cited as checking a total of “more than 4,000 inspections.” That number accounts for “80 vegetables…10 different fruits…90 kinds of seafood, as well as meat and eggs.” That means there were 4,000 checks for roughly 200 foods, or roughly 5 tests per food. Checking beef or cabbage on average 5 times in 6 months can hardly be expected to raise consumer confidence. As the Yomiuri points out, the checks on those foods were likely to decrease even further, as the meager resources available had to be put towards checking rice. In short, the government does not have the ability (or desire) to inspect the food thoroughly. Might this have something to do with foreign nations and their refusal to buy Fukushima affected food?

To be continued in part VI

Civis Journal

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