USA | Beef Contamination Spreads in Japan as Cattle Eat Radiation-Tainted Straw

Posted on July 15, 2011


USA | BLOOMBERG | 15 July 2011

More beef from cattle in Japan that ate straw tainted by radiation has found its way into the food supply, deepening concern about the safety of meat as the country struggles to contain the spread of the contamination.

Cattle at the farm in Asakawa, about 60 kilometers from the crippled Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear station, were fed with rice straw containing 97,000 becquerels of cesium per kilogram, compared with the government standard of 300 becquerels, said Hidenori Ohtani at the livestock division of the Fukushima prefectural government. The farm shipped 42 cattle in the past three months to slaughterhouses in Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba and Miyagi prefectures, which were processed into meat and sold to distributors, he said.

The discovery comes a week after the Tokyo metropolitan government said it detected beef tainted by radiation for the first time, underlining the severity of contamination caused by the stricken station in Fukushima, site of the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

“They should consider suspending shipments of products made within 80 kilometers from the nuclear station,” said Junichi Sato, an executive director at Greenpeace in Japan. More farms may have used tainted straw and shipped cattle, threatening food supplies, Sato said in an interview today.

Tests showed beef from the Asakawa farm contained 650 becquerels of cesium a kilogram, exceeding the official standard of 500 becquerels, said Kazuyuki Hashimoto at the food- monitoring division of the Tokyo government office. There was no confirmation yet if tainted beef was sold to consumers, he said.

‘Beyond Imagination’

The farm bought straw from a rice grower in Shirakawa city, about 70 kilometers from the plant damaged by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. The farmer left the straw in the field until it was sold, exposing it to radiation through the air and rain, according to Ohtani at the Fukushima government office.

The ministry was unaware of the risk to cattle from tainted straw produced by local rice growers, Agriculture Minister Michihiko Kano told reporters in Tokyo today. “It was beyond imagination that rice straw was collected from the field in the spring,” Kano said.

Rice growers typically finish collecting straw by the end of harvest in the autumn, Kano said.

There’s no centralized system to check for radioactive contamination of food in Japan as voluntary tests are conducted by prefectural governments in cooperation with local farmers.

Testing Cattle

The agriculture ministry is discussing with the health ministry and the Fukushima government if it is feasible to test all cattle in the prefecture for radiation to prevent the shipment of tainted meat to the market, Yasuo Sasaki, senior press counselor for the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said today in Tokyo.

About 437 kilograms (963 pounds) of beef from a farm in Minami-Soma city, 30 kilometers from the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear station, was consumed in eight prefectures, according to the Tokyo metropolitan government, which detected the first case of tainted beef from the farm earlier this month.

Beef from the Minami-Soma farm contained 2,300 becquerels of cesium a kilogram, according to the July 8 statement from the government office of Tokyo, which operates Japan’s largest meat market.

Fukushima is the 10th biggest cattle-producing region in Japan, representing 2.7 percent of the total. The nation exported 541,045 metric tons of beef worth 3.4 billion yen ($42.8 million) last year, including premium wagyu meat.

Japan imported 204,543 tons of beef in the five months ended May 31, rising 11 percent from the same period last year, according to the agriculture ministry.

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