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Issue of Radiation-Tainted Food in Japan Escalates

Mushrooms Join Growing List of Radioactive Threats to Japan’s Food Chain

Naoko Fujimura and Chris Cooper

Nameko mushrooms

Mushrooms joined the threats to Japan’s food chain from radiation spewed by Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant, as the country expands efforts to limit the effects of the disaster.

Japan is under pressure to enhance food inspections as it has no centralized system for detecting radiation contamination. About two-thirds of Japan’s prefectures now plan to check rice crops, the Mainichi newspaper said today, citing a survey. Half of Japan’s rice is grown within range of emissions from the crippled nuclear plant, and farmers are awaiting the results of tests before harvesting begins this month.

“By strengthening inspection on rice, we want to make sure only safe produce are in the market,” Agriculture Minister Michihiko Kano said at a press conference on Aug. 12.

Nameko mushrooms grown in the open air in Soma, a city about 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of the plant damaged in the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, were found to contain nine times the legal limit of cesium, the local government said Aug. 12. Japan’s farm ministry asked growers in Fukushima prefecture to refrain from harvesting mushrooms off raw wood left outside, public broadcaster NHK said yesterday.

Authorities in Fukushima and neighboring prefectures are conducting spot checks on a range of products in cooperation with local farmers. Radiation exceeding safety levels has been found in produce, tea, milk, fish and beef sourced as far as 360 kilometers from the nuclear plant.

Importing Vegetables

Kansai Super Market Ltd. yesterday announced it bought a 30 percent stake in Masami Cattle Ranch Inc. in California, to enable the farm to expand production and supply vegetables to Kansai stores in Japan, according to a statement the Hyogo prefecture-based supermarket chain made to the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

The European Union plans to strengthen radiation inspection on imported seafood, both from waters near Japan and from farther out in the Pacific, NHK reported yesterday.


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Levels of cesium-134 in seawater near the Fukushima plant’s No. 3 reactor rose to levels 30 times the allowed safety standards last month, according to tests performed by Tokyo Electric Power Co, NHK reported at the time.

Japan may join a U.S.-led treaty under which governments agree to prevent excessive claims against other members for compensation from nuclear accidents, the Nikkei newspaper reported today, without saying where it got the information.

Contaminated Trees

The nation’s forestry agency urged Fukushima prefecture to prevent shipments of any wood or charcoal that has been stored outdoors since the nuclear crisis, the Yomiuri newspaper said yesterday. Jiji Press reported that the farm ministry ordered the local authorities to conduct tests on trees used for mushroom growing.

Last month, hay contaminated with as much as 690,000 becquerels a kilogram, compared with a government safety standard of 300 becquerels, was found to have been fed to cattle. Beef with unsafe levels of the radioactive element was detected in four prefectures, the health ministry said July 23.

Japan’s wheat crop will have little impact from the nuclear disaster as cesium levels in the roots of the plants are low, and the effect on the wheat spikes for consumption are likely to be small, NHK said today, citing a Tokyo University study.

Radioactive iodine has been detected in the thyroids of half of 1,000 Fukushima children, NHK reported yesterday, citing findings from a group led by Satoshi Tashiro, a professor at Hiroshima University. Tashiro said the children should continue to be monitored though the levels are low and not thought to pose a threat to health, according to the report on the broadcaster’s website.

Prolonged exposure to radiation in the air, ground and food can cause leukemia and other cancers, according to the London- based World Nuclear Association.

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