Fukushima Food Fight Continues

Concerns and disputes over the safety of food from Fukushima and other nearby prefectures subject to fallout from the nuclear disaster wages on.

Taiwan voted in a recent election to continue a ban on food from five Japanese prefectures where contaminated foods were found after the initial disaster. The referendum has been called a political stunt but the public may have approved the measure due to the problematic history of food screening in Taiwan after the Fukushima disaster. Label switching, fabricated import paperwork and lax screening created public distrust in recent years.

In the wake of the Taiwan referendum the governor of Fukushima said they would do more to screen agricultural products. This effort may be too late after years of scandals, distrust and government standards that had little public support. Local farmers and fishing groups stated the need to improve public relations around Fukushima food products. Concerns about the accuracy of bulk food testing or contamination by radioactive substances not screened for in existing testing continues to give consumers pause. The Japanese government’s stance has been to compel the public to purchase agriculture products from the region so they could lower the amount of compensation the government would need to pay producers. All of this has compounded the distrust around food from the region.

China recently relaxed imports of Japanese rice from Niigata prefecture. China determined that the wind patterns and distance from the disaster site made rice from the prefecture safe enough to resume exports. China kept the rest of their food bans on Japanese food in place.

Russia has agreed to lift some restrictions on the import of Fukushima prefecture fish and processed foods. This still requires some testing for contamination but removes a layer of additional testing. Other nearby prefectures had the restriction lifted in March 2018.

While some food and environmental samples now read below the level of detection, some are still significantly contaminated. This is expected. Location and the type of sample or food plays a significant role in what shows up as still contaminated. In some cases the same food type from a general area can show no contamination, low contamination and high contamination, proving how random readings can be.

September tests from Mother’s Radiation Lab in Iwaki, Fukushima showed that bed grown mushrooms were below detection for one sample from Iwaki, while another sample from Iwaki showed 4.5 bq/kg of cesium. A bed grown mushroom sample from Niigata in western Japan showed 10.8 bq/kg of cesium. Wild mushrooms from Iwaki showed one sample at 27.1 bq/kg of cesium while another sample from Iwaki showed 1145 bq/kg. This makes it truly hard to pin down what is and isn’t contaminated without deeply detailed analysis over time.

Moss, soil and vacuum cleaner dust from the coastal parts of Fukushima showed to be frequently and significantly contaminated. Vacuum cleaner dust from around Iwaki frequently shows cesium readings that are four digits. Two samples from Miyagi prefecture showed at 121.8 and 37.2 bq/kg of cesium. Miyagi prefecture was never subjected to evacuations or other precautions related to the nuclear disaster.

These samples in the report only tested for cesium 137 and 134. Leaving other contaminants that may be in the samples to be unknown. Testing done by the laboratory is done upon request when people bring in samples. So this testing is insightful but it does not encompass all potential food and environmental materials.

Dueling debates that everything is safe vs. everything is unsafe wage on. The reality is much more nuanced.


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