Japan to Recall Tainted Beef as Cesium Contamination Widens

Japan will help meat producer groups remove beef tainted with cesium from the market and has directed them to seek compensation from Tokyo Electric Power Co. as radioactive contamination spreads in the country’s food supply.

The government will financially support the purchase, storage and incineration of meat from cattle fed with contaminated hay, which may cost as much as 2 billion yen ($25 million), said Hideo Harada, director for livestock policy planning at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. The ministry said today that 2,906 cattle ate tainted feed before shipment.

Fallout from Tepco’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant poses a growing threat to Japan’s food supply as unsafe levels of cesium found in beef on supermarket shelves were also detected in vegetables and the ocean. Prolonged exposure to radiation in the air, ground and food can cause leukemia and other cancers, according to the London-based World Nuclear Association.

“Beef containing cesium has already entered into the market,” Harada told reporters in Tokyo today. “We have to prevent it from emerging on consumer tables by checking meat and recalling tainted products from the market.”

Beef from cattle fed with tainted hay was shipped to 46 out of Japan’s total 47 prefectures, Harada said. Test results showed 23 out of 274 beef samples contained radioactive cesium that exceeded the government’s standard, he said. The recalled beef will be stored and tested and could be shipped to the market again if cesium levels don’t exceed standards, he said.

Hokkaido, Shimane

A total of 166 farms in 16 prefectures used contaminated hay as feed, according to the ministry. The prefectures include the northern island of Hokkaido, Japan’s largest cattle-growing region and as far west as Shimane.

The government on July 19 banned cattle shipments from Fukushima prefecture, though not before some had been slaughtered and shipped to supermarkets. A ban on shiitake mushrooms from another part of Fukushima was introduced on July 23 because of cesium levels, the health ministry said.

Products including spinach, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, tea, milk, plums and fish have been found contaminated with cesium and iodine as far as 360 kilometers from the nuclear plant.

Think Ahead

Agriculture Minister Michihiko Kano said this month officials didn’t foresee that farmers might ship contaminated hay to cattle ranchers. That highlights the government’s inability to think ahead and act, said Mariko Sano, secretary general for Shufuren, a housewives organization in Tokyo.

Aeon Co., Japan’s biggest supermarket chain, said yesterday that 4,108 kilograms (9,056 pounds) of beef suspected of being contaminated was inadvertently put on sale at 174 stores across Japan. Tokyu Corp. supermarket chain said in a statement on July 25 that it sold beef from cattle fed with tainted hay at 63 of its stores.

Supermarkets started testing beef after the Tokyo Metropolitan Government found radioactive cesium in slaughtered cattle this month.

Beef prices in Tokyo slumped as consumers shunned the product amid safety concerns. The price of A-4 grade wagyu meat plunged to as low as 598 yen a kilogram on July 19 from 1,623 yen on July 1 on the Tokyo meat market, according to the agriculture ministry.

Beef imports rose 11 percent in the first five months and may maintain that pace for the rest of the year, said Tetsuro Shimizu, chief researcher at Norinchukin Research Institute Co.

U.S. beef exports to Japan will probably rise 33 percent to 140,000 tons this year, Philip Seng, chief executive officer of the U.S. Meat Export Federation, said in May.

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