Home > Food, Japan, Special Report > Is selling radioactive food ethical?

Is selling radioactive food ethical?

May 18, 2012

Farmers protest outside Tepco in Tokyo. Source: Telegraph.

Part I of a special report

The effects of the nuclear disaster have created moral problems for farmers in the Fukushima area. They, like most people, need to earn a living, and in their case such comes from bringing food to market, some of which is now radioactive. Since the Japanese government have not increased the evacuation zone (actually they decreased it from 30km to 20km see here), many of the farmers can expect little to no compensation anytime soon. Relocation to a different part of Japan to begin a new farm, therefore, is not a possibility. Those who grow food in affected areas are doing so in radioactive soil. Ito Toshihiko, an organic food supplier in Fukushima, worries about selling food in future. “How can I continue to sell my product if I’m not willing to eat it myself?,” he said to Al Jazeera. “We must protect our neighbours, our children. We can’t trust the information that we are being given [by the government]” (see here).

That leaves farmers and suppliers in zones where harvesting is allowed in a difficult position. Not only must they test food, an expensive and time-consuming process, but have to deal with the decreased marketability of their products. The burden falls on them, and they had nothing to do with the nuclear accident, they argue. Many residents of Japan no longer trust the food from areas hit by radiation. The Japanese government have been blaming “baseless rumors” or “the foreign media” for the farmers’ inability to sell radioactive food instead of looking at the cause of the real problem: radiation in the soil.

Areas like Ibaraki, which are situated close to Tokyo, have measurable levels of caesium in the rice. In August 2011 the New York Times reported at least one rice sample that had “52 becquerels per kilogram,” which was below the then 500 Bq/kg limit set by Tokyo (today’s limit is 100 here), but still had radiation. Whilst there is a lot of complacency among Japanese in general, there is a significant numbers who oppose radiation in the food. Some have begun to test food grown near Fukushima like Ichio Muto, as reported in the NY Times (here).  A smaller number shun it completely, especially foreigners and mothers with young children.

An American ex-pat David Moore and his Japanese wife “spent more than $5,000” on equipment to test soil and food, and only feed their son “purified water…and food they are certain is safe.” Mr. Moore told PBS that it is necessary to “cut the food from the market 100% until we can guarantee a certain amount of stability” (here). Mr. Moore is cognizant of the difficulties Japanese farmers face, and feels the best approach would be for the Japanese government to compensate them so that they would not be forced to choose between selling radioactive food or bankruptcy.

To be continued in part II

Civis Journal

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