Revelations that radiation-contaminated rice straw used as feed for beef cattle was produced far away from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant have sent shockwaves through the livestock farming community in Fukushima Prefecture.
Consumers have also been filled with a sense of growing distrust in the government over delays in responding to the problem of radiation-tainted beef.
Forty-two beef cows that ate rice straw contaminated with radioactive cesium were found to have been shipped from a livestock farm in the Fukushima Prefecture town of Asakawa from April 8. The rice straw had been supplied by a farmer in Shirakawa, about 75 kilometers away from the tsunami-hit nuclear power station.
“It’s unbelievable that this (contamination) occurred in an area so far away from the nuclear plant,” said a 34-year-old man who has run a livestock farm in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, for nearly 10 years.
On July 8 the government asked livestock farmers in the city to refrain from shipping beef.
“Fukushima-produced beef cows will no longer sell unless we switch to feed produced outside the prefecture and suspend shipments of beef cows until the safety of all feed produced in the prefecture is confirmed,” the Minamisoma farmer said.
Officials with the local governments of areas to which the cows had been shipped were busy confirming meat distribution routes until late on July 14.
Top officials of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government have consulted with officials in Tokyo’s Bureau of Social Welfare and Public Health over how to conduct follow-up surveys. Thirteen of the cows had been shipped to Tokyo by June 16.
The metropolitan government had just finished an investigation on July 13 into the distribution routes of six other contaminated beef cows which had been shipped from Minamisoma.
“We have no choice but to diligently track down tainted beef that has been marketed,” said a senior official.
Of the 42 cows shipped from Asakawa, 32 have been sent to slaughterhouses in Tokyo, Yokohama and Chiba — causing unrest among residents of the metropolitan area.
Keiko Endo, a 68-year-old woman who was shopping at a supermarket in Nakano Ward, Tokyo, expressed anger at the government’s slow response to the case. “I buy goods at store shelves, believing that they are safe. I wonder why the government failed to check the safety of cows before their meat was shipped,” she said.
A 40-year-old housewife who has 12- and 7-year-old children expressed worries about the safety of domestic meat while shopping at a supermarket in Mihama Ward, Chiba. “If something like this repeatedly happens, you become increasingly worried about food safety,” she said. “I’ll choose Australian meat for the health of my children.”
At the same time, some consumers have expressed sympathy with farmers in Fukushima Prefecture who have been affected by the crisis at the crippled nuclear power station.
“I lately choose not to eat beef at barbecue restaurants. But I feel sorry for Fukushima people,” said 74-year-old Akiko Suwabe, a housewife living in Tokyo’s Nakano Ward.
“I don’t think the farmer in question shipped the rice straw as feed while knowing it was contaminated with radiation. Experts say, ‘If you eat the beef, it won’t pose an immediate threat to your health’,” said a 63-year-old woman from Chiba. “Consumers’ overreaction will only make farmers suffer.”
The livestock farm in Asakawa that shipped the 42 cows expressed an apology for the incident in an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun.
“I’m really sorry for this. I’ve been losing sleep since yesterday. I’m acquainted with the Shirakawa farmer who sold the rice straw to me,” he said. “I can’t immediately comment on the matter any further because I haven’t resolved my feelings.”