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Japan Expands Rice-Shipment Ban as Contamination Spreads

Japan Plans to Expand Rice-Shipment Ban
Rice grows in a field in Misato Town, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan. Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

Japan extended a ban on rice shipments to another area in Fukushima prefecture after local authorities found more tainted grain, deepening food-safety concerns nine months after a nuclear disaster.

The ban covers the Shibukawa area of Nihonmatsu City, about 55 kilometers (34 miles) from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, as samples from the area contained 780 becquerels per kilogram of radioactive cesium, said Shin Sato at the grain division of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. The maximum allowed by the government for human consumption is 500 becquerels.

The discovery came as authorities increased rice testing for cesium after tainted supplies were found in Fukushima City and Date City. Some of the contaminated grain was sold to local buyers after Fukushima Governor Yuhei Sato said in October that rice produced in the prefecture was safe to eat.

“We may find more contaminated rice in other areas,” Shinji Uchida at the ministry’s grain division said today by phone. “Because of the limited capacity for testing, local authorities were unable to check every bag of rice for contamination.”

The government allowed farmers in Fukushima prefecture to start shipping rice in October as test results had shown no samples that exceeded the official limit.

Fukushima City

The first case of rice contamination was discovered in November when a farmer in Fukushima City voluntarily submitted his rice for testing at a local agricultural organization. The government conducted official testing on 3,217 rice samples from growers in 17 prefectures by Nov. 17.

Japan banned rice shipments for the first time last month, following the discovery of grain containing 630 becquerels per kilogram of cesium in the Ohnami area of Fukushima City.

The restriction will have little impact on rice supply in Japan as the ministry expects the grain stockpiled by producers and distributors will increase 4.4 percent to 1.89 million tons at the end of June 2012, the highest level in two years.

The harvest of food rice in Japan reached 8.13 million tons this year, overwhelming Japanese demand of 8.05 million tons expected for the year to June 30, 2012, the ministry said on Nov. 30. Good weather boosted grain production this year even after a record earthquake and tsunami in March destroyed some paddy fields in the nation’s northeast.

Fukushima prefecture was the fourth-largest rice producer in Japan last year, representing about 5 percent of the harvest. Japan exported 1,898 tons of rice in 2010, according to the agriculture ministry.

Products including spinach, mushrooms, milk and beef were contaminated with radiation as far as 360 kilometers from the atomic station destroyed by the disaster.

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