JAPAN | Blanket testing necessary to ensure safe beef

Posted on July 13, 2011

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JAPAN | YOMIURI |  13 July 2011

The government must try to prevent consumer anxieties about food from increasing further.

Radioactive cesium exceeding the government’s legal limit was detected in the meat of 11 cows shipped from a farm in Minami-Soma, Fukushima Prefecture. A meat processing facility in Tokyo detected the radioactive contamination through a sample survey, though it was not detected before shipping.

Before this revelation, the farm had shipped six other cows, which were processed and distributed in Tokyo and 10 prefectures around the country. Some of the meat was believed to have been consumed.

An expert pointed out that the level of radioactive cesium detected in the cows would not affect human health unless the meat was eaten daily over a long period of time. We therefore do not have to be overly concerned.

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Inspections inadequate

However, it remains a problem that meat containing a radioactive substance above the legal limit reached consumers. The inspection system prior to shipping must be reviewed.

The farm that shipped the cows is in an emergency evacuation preparation zone between 20 and 30 kilometers from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. The farm was banned from shipping cows immediately after the nuclear crisis, but was allowed to resume shipments in late April after it became unnecessary for residents to evacuate immediately from the zone.

The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry told farmers not to give animals fodder stored outdoors, but the farm did not follow this directive and fed cows with straw kept outside. A high level of radioactive cesium was later detected in the farm’s straw.

The Fukushima prefectural government checked the level of radioactivity on the hide of all cows in the prefecture and confirmed that their external exposure to radioactive substances was within the government limit. However, the prefecture merely questioned farms about feed storage conditions to learn of the cows’ internal exposure to radioactive materials. Internal exposure means absorption of radioactive substances into the body.

However, the farm, which shipped the cows tainted with radioactive cesium, allegedly did not tell the truth when questioned by the prefecture.

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Govt must support testing

The March 11 disaster brought distribution of fodder to a halt for some time in areas around the nuclear plant. Since it could not procure sufficient fodder after the earthquake, the farm apparently had no option but to feed its cows with straw stored outside. The agriculture ministry also may have failed to give thorough instructions to cattle farms in the area.

So far, beef found to have been tainted with radioactive cesium is limited to the meat of cows shipped from this farm. However, it is imperative for the government to thoroughly survey the cattle breeding conditions of other farms in the area.

The Fukushima prefectural government plans to inspect all cows to be shipped from the emergency evacuation preparation zone and the planned evacuation zone. This is necessary to prevent harmful rumors spreading about beef in general.

Inspections of cows shipped for processing outside the prefecture require the cooperation of local governments. The central government must financially and physically support such inspections.

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