Govt Food Testing In Japan Shows Food Roulette Still Exists

Asahi Shimbun recently promoted a sort of “all clear” on food consumption in Fukushima. The claim was that meals were one fifth as contaminated as they were one year ago. There are a number of things wrong with this statement. Looking at meals rather than ingredients is quite vague. It does not indicate where the food was sourced from or the type of ingredients in the meal. The changes could be due to lower radiation, better selection by the residents, a shift to safer ingredients or all of the above.

What we have found to be critical to what is or is not contaminated are three factors. Location, where did the food come from. The proximity to the plant and radiation plumes and also the ongoing migration of contamination through rivers and other pathways. The type of food. Certain foods like mushrooms and bamboo shoots seem to be contaminated even far from the disaster area. Meanwhile other foods like tomato and cucumber seem to be very low or uncontaminated even from parts of Fukushima known to be contaminated. Hot spots and growing conditions make up the third factor. Beef in certain areas known to be contaminated have shows below detection while beef from another further area will show with low levels of contamination.

On one recent round of testing bamboo shoots from Akita prefecture, an area assumed to not be heavily contaminated, showed over the government radiation limit of 100 bq/kg. Of 9 samples of Pacific Cod from Hokkaido, only 2 showed below detection confidence ranges. While these samples were low, double digits or less, they are still contaminated. The government considers 100 bq/kg safe to eat. Consumers frequently have a different opinion and expect food to have no contamination.

Some other findings of note were blueberries in Chiba showing with low levels of contamination. We saw a similar problem with yuzu fruit and kiwi on earlier testing. Testing of these three fruits from the Fukushima region has been absent in most testing and would be a useful contrast to the Chiba results.

Also of note was the contaminated freshwater fish coming from rivers in Tokyo. Freshwater eel from two rivers in Tokyo showed with contamination of 34 bq/kg or less. Not all of the eel tested showed contaminated. This indicates the hit or miss nature of finding low levels of contamination even within the same conditions. One sample testing clean doesn’t mean the rest are 100% assured to be. This seems to be more true in samples like fish or wildlife.

While fish in Tokyo show with contamination, some produce in Koriyama Fukushima, a location known to be contaminated, show below detection levels. Cucumber, apricot, snap bean, radish and broccoli showed below detection limits.

This most recent round of testing seems to be absent the testing of known to be contaminated foods from Fukushima prefecture such as mushrooms, bamboo shoot or items found contaminated further away like blueberries or yuzu. So the testing itself may be a bit deceptive.

Beef around Japan was mostly showing below detection limits with a few exceptions. What is not mentioned is if the farmers are still taking special precautions with feed and grazing to get there. If special measures are keeping beef below detection it means the food supply is safe but is this sustainable for farmers long term? There may be additional costs involved that burden farmers over the long term that could cause problems such as loss of farms or increases in prices to compensate.

June 17 government food testing in English:
http://www.mhlw.go.jp/english/topics/2011eq/level_June17.html

Most recent results in Japanese:
http://www.mhlw.go.jp/stf/houdou/2r985200000355ps-att/2r985200000355tj.pdf

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