Posts Tagged food safety

Radiation in food: Radish Boya to Set Its Own Cesium Standard | EX-SKF.

The bottom line is forcing more and more businesses to take matters into their own hands instead of relying on the government.  The rice farmers of Fukushima, judging by this unconfirmed but unfortunately not implausible story, apparently don’t need to worry about the bottom line.

Radish Boya, an online grocer who first alerted Shizuoka Prefecture that one of the Shizuoka contained radioactive cesium exceeded the provisional limit by its own testing, is going to set its own standard for cesium in food and drinks that it sells, which is one-tenths of the national provisional standards.

via Radiation in food: Radish Boya to Set Its Own Cesium Standard | EX-SKF.

See also this June blog entry,  quoting a Japan Times article about online mail-order food-delivery companies promising pesticide-free, organic food: Irradiated food poses moral dilemmas.

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2011/08/20 20:21 – Retailers Begin Independent Radiation Checks

Reality is forcing consumers and businesses to make increasing use of their own initiative and of private sources. Will consumers continue to insist on more government assistance with food-safety checks? Will they continue to be disappointed with the results (too little, too late)? Will increasing numbers of consumers and local governments look elsewhere for help?

TOKYO (Nikkei)–Supermarket operators and other food retailers are increasingly conducting independent radiation checks on their products amid growing concerns among consumers about food safety.

Supermarket chain Ito-Yokado Co. has started strengthening radiation checks at its own farms, and many restaurant operators have bought radiation dosimeters and begun their own inspections.

These moves come after sales of Japanese beef at supermarkets tumbled following the discovery that cattle fed with rice straw tainted with radioactive cesium had been shipped to many parts of the country.

Ito-Yokado has conducted radiation checks on cow manure, rice husks and wood chips that had been used at its own farms until August in four locations in the Kanto region, including Chikusei, Ibaraki Prefecture, and Tomisato, Chiba Prefecture. It has also used a third-party organization to check soil and unused manure at its farms.

Major supermarket operator Aeon Co. (8267) will ask a third-party organization to conduct radiation checks on rice produced in 2011 for its “Topvalu” private brand.

Kakiyasu Honten Co. (2294), which operates a chain of shops selling prepared food dishes, spent about 20 million yen to buy a germanium semiconductor detector that can pick up even low levels of radiation and recognize different types of radioactive substances. It started checks on beef on Aug. 12.

via 2011/08/20 20:21 – Retailers Begin Independent Radiation Checks.

Please note: “These moves come after sales of Japanese beef at supermarkets tumbled following the discovery that cattle fed with rice straw tainted with radioactive cesium had been shipped to many parts of the country.”

It did not take petitions, complaints, paperwork, committee-meetings to get these private checks. It merely took a tumble in sales. In other words, prices send the quickest signals, and businesses that run on profit and loss react quickly to those signals.

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How dangerous to human health is radioactive cesium?

On March 25th, 2011, Lewis Page wrote,

nobody has ever been able to show that this isotope [caesium-137] has any health consequences at all: huge amounts were emitted from Chernobyl, but no discernible illnesses have resulted.

However, Page is perhaps not a reliable source of information. A commenter on this blog wrote,

It seems Mr. Page is finally quieting down a bit. His comments seemed unduly rosy at the time he wrote them – with hindsight they defy polite comment. At the time of Mr. Page’s writing the meltdowns had already occurred but were not yet public knowledge. However what was known was bad enough and this was in no way reflected in Mr. Page’s writing.

I would especially like to point out Mr. Page’s belief that the Chernobyl catastrophy cost less than fifty lives.

And he provided these  three  links.

So what exactly are the health concerns with regard to radioactive caesium? Is it dangerous to breathe it in? To digest it? Wikipedia provides little  information about the effects on human health of exposure to radioactive caesium-137. Wikipedia also informs me that there are several radioactive isotopes of caesium. Caesium-137 has a half-life of about 30 years. (“The radioactive 135Cs has a very long half-life of about 2.3 million years.”)

The isotopes 134 and 137 (present in the biosphere in small amounts from radiation leaks) represent a radioactivity burden which varies depending on location. Radiocaesium does not accumulate in the body as effectively as many other fission products (such as radioiodine and radiostrontium). As with other alkali metals, radiocaesium washes out of the body relatively quickly in sweat and urine. However, radiocaesium follows potassium and tends to accumulate in plant tissues, including fruits and vegetables.[97][98][99] It is also well-documented that mushrooms from contaminated forests accumulate radiocaesium (caesium-137) in their fungal sporocarps.[100] Accumulation of caesium-137 in lakes has been a high concern after the Chernobyl disaster.[101][102] Experiments with dogs showed that a single dose of 3800 μCi (4.1 μg of caesium-137) per kilogram is lethal within three weeks;[103] smaller amounts may cause infertility and cancer.[104

This would suggest that the fact that people have radioactive urine is not a signal for mass panic: rather, their bodies are functioning normally and flushing the (presumably) caesium out.

So perhaps we should be more concerned about strontium. However, the media is all about caesium…

BTW, I recommend reading the Wikipedia entries on the Chernobyl disaster and on deaths due to the Chernobyl disaster. They provide perspective on what is unfolding in Fukushima. By that I mean firstly, there were many people who died immediately or within 3 months, due to acute radiation sickness. So far no-one has died from ARS in Fukushima or anywhere else in Japan since March 11. And secondly, it gives a hint as to how long the Fukushima disaster will continue (the Chernobyl disaster occurred on 26 April 1986, 25 years ago) :

Of the 440,350 wild boar killed in the 2010 hunting season in Germany, over 1,000 were found to be contaminated with levels of radiation above the permitted limit of 600 bequerels, due to residual radioactivity from Chernobyl.[100] Germany has “banned wild game meat because of contamination linked to radioactive mushrooms”.[101]

The Norwegian Agricultural Authority reported that in 2009 a total of 18,000 livestock in Norway needed to be given uncontaminated feed for a period of time before slaughter in order to ensure that their meat was safe for human consumption. This was due to residual radioactivity from Chernobyl in the plants they graze on in the wild during the summer. The after-effects of Chernobyl were expected to be seen for a further 100 years, although the severity of the effects would decline over that period.[102] In Britain and Norway, as of 2011, “slaughter restrictions remain for sheep raised on pasture contaminated by radiation fallout”.[103]

Without precise information about the type of isotope detected, articles like this one, while high in attention-grabbing and unease-causing power, do little to inform. (This one is even worse.)

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Japanese Government Will Lift Shipping Ban on Cows from Fukushima and Miyagi (Hello #Radioactive Beef Again) | EX-SKF

Yesterday, I predicted growing and lingering uncertainty and doubt in the minds of Japanese residents for a long time to come. Doubts about the accuracy of food-safety and information about food-safety; doubts about the trustworthiness and reliability of the sources, doubts as to the sources (is this food really where the package says its from?). There will continue to be doubts, even if the source of information seems sincere and trustworthy, due to the unpredictable nature of radiation accumulation in different foods.

Below is more evidence for my prognosis. From EX-SKF who is quoting from his own translation of a  Mainichi Shinbun (8/18/2011) news item:

The Ministry of Health and Labor wanted the contaminated rice hay out of the cattle farms as a condition to lift the ban. On the other hand, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fukushima/Miyagi Prefectures insisted the rice hay remain within the farms as long as it was separated from the cows, because it would be hard for the farms to secure the storage space outside the farms.

So the Ministry of Health and Labor lost. This is the Ministry that’s supposed to protect consumers.

Will they test all the cows? No they won’t. Not even in Fukushima. They only test the meat of the cows raised in the planned evacuation zone and evacuation-ready zone right outside the 20 kilometer radius from Fukushima I Nuke Plant. For everywhere else in Fukushima Prefecture, the first cow to be shipped from a cattle farm will be tested. If that passes the test, all cows can be sold.

Even when they do test, they will just do the simple test using “affordable” instruments that cost only a few thousand dollars and take only 15 minutes to test, and as long as the number is below 250 becquerels/kg they won’t test further. Only if it goes above 250 becquerels/kg, they will use expensive instruments that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and take 1 hour to test.

What about the news at the end of July that radioactive cesium is NOT distributed evenly in the meat, not even within the same part?

via Japanese Government Will Lift Shipping Ban on Cows from Fukushima and Miyagi (Hello #Radioactive Beef Again) | EX-SKF.

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Experts urge great caution over radiation risks | The Japan Times Online

This is a June article, but it includes a useful chart of radiation limits for Japan and other countries for various food types, a matter which is unfortunately becoming daily of increasingly vital interests to many. I don’t think anyone can foresee the serious and long-term effects of this spread of radiation. The risks are not only from the radiation itself, but also of the uncertainty and doubt – is this information correct? Is the source reliable? What aren’t they telling us? And so on.

In order to address public concerns over post 3/11 food safety, the government should be more forthcoming in the monitoring and disclosure of data regarding radiation contamination of soil, Akira Sugenoya, mayor of Matsumoto City, Nagano Prefecture, told this reporter recently.

via Experts urge great caution over radiation risks | The Japan Times Online.


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Stop claiming food is safe, ministry told | The Japan Times Online

Progress? Perhaps this is in response to public reactions. Perhaps ministers and bureaucrats are realizing that they are not able to manage people’s perceptions in the way they have been accustomed?

Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto has committed an about-face on policy by telling his ministry to refrain from vouching for the safety of Japanese food.

The ministry stance changed after radiation-tainted beef was found to have been sold to consumers nationwide, sources said.

via Stop claiming food is safe, ministry told | The Japan Times Online.

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Public hoarding old rice over fallout fears | The Japan Times Online

“The buying spree indicates deep public distrust in the government’s handling of the food safety issues…”

I disagree. It’s simply common sense. The public realises that the government is physically incapable of guaranteeing the edibility of rice all over the country. To do so will mean checking for radioactivity in every rice stalk in Japan. The public realises that the government cannot be expected to do this. At best the government will check a few rice stalks randomly sampled from a few randomly selected rice farms in a few randomly selected prefectures.

That doesn’t tell me about the safety of the rice I buy at the local supermarket. Common sense tells me rice packaged and shipped prior to March 11 will be safer than post-March-11 rice.

The public is simply realising that this disaster is simply too big for any single group of people to manage. There is no alternative in this case but for individuals, consumers and farmers, to use their own initiative.

Consumers are starting to hoard last year’s rice over concerns the next crops may be contaminated with radioactive materials released from the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, retailers said Friday.

The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry is working to establish a system for ensuring the safety of rice ahead of the autumn harvest, with plans to inspect the crop in two stages.

The buying spree indicates deep public distrust in the government’s handling of food safety issues amid the nuclear crisis following a scare over contaminated beef.

via Public hoarding old rice over fallout fears | The Japan Times Online.

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