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Japan’s ‘Major Problem’ With Radioactive Cattle Gets Even Bigger

Japan’s government said the number of cattle fed with hay contaminated by radiation has doubled, two days after shipments of beef from cows raised near the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant were banned.

As of yesterday there were 1,256 potentially contaminated cows from 637 two days earlier, said Kazutoshi Nobuto, a spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

“This is a major, major problem,” Goshi Hosono, Japan’s food safety minister, said yesterday at a press conference in the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan. Hosono is also in charge of the response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The cattle ate tainted straw during a feed-supply shortage after the March earthquake and tsunami caused the reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant north of Tokyo. The government needs to move quickly to allay public concern about food safety, said nuclear physicist Peter Burns.

“If you don’t go riding in hard from the start, 110 percent rigorous on it, then you have these things crop up and it creates a lack of confidence in the product,” Burns, a former Australian representative on the United Nation’s scientific committee on atomic radiation, said in an interview.

The government on July 19 imposed a ban on shipments from Fukushima prefecture north of the capital after finding 637 cattle were fed hay containing radioactive cesium. Some of the cattle had been slaughtered and the beef shipped to supermarkets, including Japan’s biggest, Aeon Co., and sold in Tokyo and other cities.

Radiated Hay

Hay from rice stalks made in Fukushima prefecture was found to contain radiation of as much as 690,000 becquerels compared with the 300-becquerel safety limit, according to the local government office. The cattle suspected of being fed the contaminated hay have been shipped to 45 of Japan’s 47 prefectures, Kyodo News reported yesterday.

A becquerel represents one radioactive decay per second, which involves the release of atomic energy that can damage human cells and DNA, causing leukemia and other forms of cancer, according to the World Nuclear Association.

Some beef from the cattle contained cesium exceeding government standards and was sold to consumers, said Kazuyuki Hashimoto, an official at the food-monitoring division of the Tokyo metropolitan government.

About 437 kilograms (963 pounds) of beef from a farm in Minami-Soma city, 30 kilometers from the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear station, was eaten in eight prefectures, according to the Tokyo metropolitan government, which detected the first case of tainted beef from the farm earlier this month.

Fisheries Tests

Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings Ltd. today said it had inadvertently sold beef later found to be contaminated with radioactive cesium at three of its stores.

A total of 68.2 kilograms of tainted beef was sold at stores in Shizuoka and Kanagawa prefectures and by a subsidiary in Tokyo, the company said in a statement on its website today.

Japan’s agriculture ministry has also been conducting tests of fish caught in the waters off the eastern seaboard of the country and found some contaminated with radiation.

“So far no contaminated sea products have entered the food supply channel,” Shouichi Takayama, assistant director at the Fisheries Agency’s ecosystem conservation office, said today.

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 (225 miles) from Dai-Ichi. Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the Fukushima station, said on June 14 it found cesium in milk tested near another nuclear reactor site about 210 kilometers from the damaged plant.

While the risk to the health of individuals who have eaten the beef is minor, the damage to reputation could end up “destroying whole industries,” Burns said, who has 40 years experience in radiation safety.

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