JAPAN | Health ministry to review inspection system over radioactive beef scare

Posted on July 15, 2011

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JAPAN | MAINICHI | 15 July 2011

The government decided July 15 to review its beef-cow screening policy after a cattle farm in Asakawa, Fukushima Prefecture, shipped 42 cows fed with radioactive cesium-contaminated straw to Tokyo and several other prefectures.

Under the move, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare will consider expanding the present screening policy — which covers beef cattle to be shipped from farms in planned evacuation zones and emergency evacuation preparation zones — to ensure the safety of beef cows from a much wider area.

The town of Asakawa, about 60 kilometers away from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, was beyond the area covered by Fukushima Prefecture’s mandatory screening. The central government concluded that it has to strengthen its inspection system to continue to ship such cows while ensuring the health of consumers.

After a Cabinet meeting on the morning of July 15, Health Minister Ritsuo Hosokawa said, “Some cattle in Fukushima Prefecture have been transferred to other prefectures since the nuclear incident. We’re talking with the prefecture and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries about the overall screenings and the regions concerned.”

Health Ministry officials, however, said the current capacity of Fukushima Prefecture’s slaughter houses and resources for radiation checks are insufficient for prefecture-wide screenings. The prefecture is sounding out municipalities taking delivery of beef cattle about conducting the inspections, but many of these already have their hands full inspecting locally grown fruits and vegetables.

Some government officials are proposing a halt to Fukushima beef cattle shipments under a special nuclear disaster law, but cattle farmers are expected to oppose such a step.

According to Fukushima Prefecture, radiation of 0.17 microsieverts per hour has been measured at Asakawa town hall. The city of Shirakawa, where a farmer supplied radioactive straw for beef cattle, recorded 0.49 microsieverts. The 42 cows did not undergo radioactivity tests.

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