Beef contaminated by radiation from Fukushima prefecture has been eaten by consumers in Japan, intensifying food-safety concerns and stoking criticism against a government testing program that checks only selected products.
About 437 kilograms (963 pounds) of beef from a farm in Minami-Soma city, 30 kilometers from the stricken Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear station, was consumed in eight prefectures, according to the Tokyo metropolitan government, which detected the first case of tainted beef from the farm earlier this month.
Four months after a record earthquake and tsunami crippled the power plant in Fukushima, site of the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, local government offices are struggling to check every farm product due to a shortage of testing equipment, staff and budget. Prolonged exposure to radiation in the air, ground and food can cause leukemia and other cancers, according to the London-based World Nuclear Association.
“The government’s mishandling of the issue is deepening food-safety concerns,” Susumu Harada, senior director at the U.S. Meat Export Federation’s Tokyo office, said in an interview.
Products including spinach, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, tea, milk, plums and fish have been found to be contaminated with cesium and iodine as far as 360 kilometers from Dai-Ichi. Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the stricken station, said June 14 it found cesium in milk tested near another nuclear reactor site about 210 kilometers from the damaged plant.
The cattle ate tainted straw amid a feed-supply shortage after the March disaster, which damaged feed plants in the nation’s northeast. The local government detected 75,000 becquerels of cesium a kilogram in straw stored in the farmer’s rice field, exceeding the official standard of 300 becquerels.
Beef from the farm contained 2,300 becquerels of cesium a kilogram, according to the July 8 statement from the government office of Tokyo, which operates Japan’s largest meat market. The government set the limit at 500 becquerels of cesium a kilogram.
Fukushima is the 10th biggest cattle-producing region in Japan, representing 2.7 percent of the total. The nation exported 541 metric tons of beef worth 3.4 billion yen ($42.8 million) last year, including premium wagyu meat.
Japan imported 204,543 tons of beef in the five months ended May 31, rising 11 percent from the same period last year, according to the agriculture ministry.
There’s no centralized checking system for radioactive contamination of food as voluntary tests are conducted by prefectural governments in cooperation with local farmers.
A slaughterhouse in Tokyo detected the contamination after it received 11 cattle from the Fukushima farm. It also slaughtered five animals from the farm in May and June, which were already sold to distributors and partially consumed, said Kazuyuki Hashimoto at the food-monitoring division of the Tokyo government office.
About 1.44 tons of beef from the Fukushima farm was sold in 11 prefectures comprising Tokyo, Kanagawa, Aichi, Hokkaido, Tokushima, Kochi, Shizuoka, Chiba, Osaka, Hyogo and Akita. Of the total, 437 kilograms were consumed in the prefectures excluding Chiba, Akita and Hyogo, Hashimoto said.
The Fukushima government office plans to check all cattle farms in the prefecture to find out if any of them gave contaminated material to their animals, Hidenori Ohtani at the livestock division said yesterday by phone.
Agriculture Minister Michihiko Kano told reporters on June 12 that the ministry wants to help Fukushima conduct thorough testing of cattle for radiation.