Radiation-Tainted Beef Spreads Through Japan’s Markets
So six weeks after the accident, on April 23, he shipped 12 of his prized cattle from his farm to market.
Now Japanese agricultural officials say meat from more than 500 cattle that were likely to have been contaminated with radioactive cesium has made its way to supermarkets and restaurants across
“I was a little worried, but we had to sell when we could,” said Mr. Sato, whose cattle were not fed hay and so were unlikely to have been contaminated.
When a precautionary order to halt all farm shipments was lifted soon after the accident, area farmers took it as a go-ahead sign, he said. “We all resumed shipments,” he said. “Of course we did.”
The revelations by the government this month that contaminated meat reached Japanese markets have intensified food safety concerns in
Radioactive material has been detected in a range of produce, including spinach, tea leaves, milk and fish. Contaminated hay has been found at farms more than 85 miles from the crippled
Still, because of a severe shortage of testing equipment, and local governments that are still swamped with disaster relief, only a small percentage of farm products grown in the region get checked for radiation.
The government has suspended agricultural shipments from within a radius of about 12 miles around the
For months the government balked at placing a wider ban on produce from the
Now, with the number of contamination cases rising, the government is finally moving to ban beef shipments from
Fukushima Prefecture has also said it issued instructions in late March warning farmers to make sure hay was stored indoors, to prevent possible contamination from rain. But many farmers said they were not aware of such a directive.
Cattle from some areas with high radiation readings, including here in Minamisoma, a city in
This month, officials testing hay fed to cattle at a ranch in Minamisoma detected radioactive cesium 250 times above
Officials suspect that the hay was stored outside and became tainted with rainwater, which can carry radioactive elements in the atmosphere as it falls. Though hay is not usually fed to cattle here, a feed-supply shortage after the March 11 quake and tsunami forced some farms to substitute it for other food.
Some farmers in the region say that they welcome tougher checks, and that cattle can still be shipped from
Yuta Furuyama, who has 233 cattle in Minamisoma, is certain his herd is clean. His cattle are kept indoors, and their feed is stored in thick plastic bags, out of the rain. He said he was careful to not even bring tools that he has used outside into the cowshed, for fear of contaminating his herd, which he is eager to have tested for radiation so that his cattle can be safely sold later this year.
“I hope they will finally step up the checks,” he said. “If the government had given proper advice and done proper tests in the first place, things wouldn’t have gotten out of hand.”
Japanese government officials insist that even at levels above government limits, radioactive cesium will not have an immediate effect on health. Longer-term effects are less known, however. Many experts say that prolonged exposure to radiation can lead to a higher incidence of cancers like leukemia.
“If you eat it every day, it might be a problem,” Goshi Hosono, the minister in charge of the nuclear issue, said last week. “But if you eat just a little, there would be no big effect on your health.”
Experts, however, disagree on what the effects may be of exposure to radiation above the limits but at low doses.
Some farms have sold off their herds in recent weeks, at even lower prices than the
After March 11, cattle sold for about $6,330 a head, about a third less than the price before the quake, he said. Then as radiation fears increased, prices plummeted further.
Panicked, the farm decided to sell its remaining 180 cattle all at once in early July, including calves still not ready for market, at rock-bottom prices to farms outside
When the cattle were gone, Mr. Takahashi was let go. He is now looking for a city job.
“It’s finished,” he said. “Nobody will ever want to eat beef from
Max Hodges contributed research.
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