Fukushima Brings New Awareness Of Contaminated Food Worldwide

Beef in Q mark in white plateThe concerns about food contamination from Fukushima has also increased awareness of the lingering problems of world wide food contamination from various sources. Fukushima was not the first major radiation release to the environment. Atomic testing in the Pacific contributed to considerable amounts of radioactive contamination of the sea that can still be found in sea life today. Chernobyl contaminated a wide swath of Europe and Russia, this contamination is still routinely found in foods from the region. The US has their own home grown contamination problems. With multiple national nuclear labs, a large fleet of aging nuclear reactors and decades of domestic atomic bomb testing, people in the US have begun to wonder how this has impacted the food supply there.

This doesn’t discount the impact of Fukushima world wide. Fukushima related radiation was found in food as far away as Greece in 2011. Fukushima related radiation has been found in a wide variety of food products between 2011 and 2013. As time goes on it becomes harder to clearly identify contamination as being from Fukushima. The cesium 134 used to identify the contamination has a short half life, so that is becoming harder to find while the longer lived isotopes will still show up.

In Russia in 2012 contaminated blueberries were found in a Moscow market and seized by the government. Also found around the same time were other contaminated products including mushrooms and boar meat. These three items are commonly found to be contaminated around Europe and Russia. Russian authorities advised against buying any food products from the Bryansk region of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. They also advised against purchasing foods where the origin is not clear. In January China announced they were buying corn from the Ukraine. The possible contamination levels of this corn is not known. It is also not known what food products it might end up in or if those products would be sold for further export. The food supply is truly global.

The Environmental Institute in Berlin did a survey of wild berry jams on the market in 2013. They found a wide array of European jams that contained significantly contaminated berries, including wild blueberries. Earlier in 2013 a testing lab in Japan found a European jam imported there to be considerably contaminated. These European jams found to be contaminated are widely available around the world. Some are common brands in North America and in Asia, showing the wide reach of the food supply. Local contamination doesn’t stay local in a world where food is shipped everywhere. What was most concerning in the review of these jams was how hard it was for the consumer to really know where the ingredients originated from. Only some of the products admitted the source of the berries on the labels at all. Even when the origin of the berries is noted, it is frequently buried on the label while a more marketable country is displayed prominently on the label. At least one contaminated jam had a berry origin in North America.

Some citizen activists have had foods in their area tested for contamination at their own expense. Vancouver Food Radiation Monitoring has been sending in various foods for testing. Some products have shown to be clean, while others as contaminated.  We have compiled US and EU radiation testing results as we find them here. There has also been some commercial seafood testing done.

A combination of factors have created confusion and frustration for consumers. The food supply is so worldwide today it is hard to determine where the ingredients came from. There is more than one region of the world where foods are contaminated yet exported or domestically distributed. Most countries set arbitrarily high intervention levels where food would be pulled off the market. These levels are not an assurance of safety and do allow contaminated foods to enter the market, just at levels below the government limit. These limits have frustrated consumers in South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong as contaminated foods from Japan make it to their country that skate just below that country’s intervention level. Japan has the lowest radiation intervention level currently, yet children as far away at Tokyo are being found with cesium in their urine.

The general motivation of governments around the world and many food producers it to force consumers to accept radioactive contamination in their food by comparing it to naturally occurring radiation, or by citing the arbitrary government intervention levels claiming that to be a promise of safety. Widespread testing would be expensive for these governments. Admissions that some food regions are producing foods with radioactive contamination would have a negative impact on agriculture sales in that region. This again would ultimately fall back on various governments to deal with the losses. The money saving solution by the involved governments is to try to convince consumers that radioactive contamination in the food supply is somehow ok.

image credit | anh-europe.org

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