Tuesday, September 20, 2011


It is now more than 6 months since the tragic earthquake, tsunami and massive damage to the Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan. Although it is largely out of the international news these days, the difficulties in Japan continue. A major concern for many people is safety of their own and their family's food. How can they make sure it doesn't carry too much radiation, and endanger their health?

Unfortunately - as I predicted in early March (see earlier posts) - radionuclides are indeed turning up in Japan's food at high levels - often many times the safety standards established. Dangerous levels of radiation have now been found in such foods as beef, plums, spinach, bamboo shoots, rice, tea, milk, seaweed and fish. Some of this radiation-contaminated food has come from as far away as 360 kilometers from the nuclear plant.
Yes, authorities in Fukushima and neighboring prefectures are conducting spot checks on a growing number of food products. But clearly, as in any such activity, some is caught and some is missed. It is impossible to check every food item.

Effective controls also depend on cooperation of farmers, and farmers are understandably concerned about how positive findings would affect their livelihoods.

Many consumers are convinced that the government is just not doing enough to keep them safe. Rightly so, mothers of young children, pregnant and lactating women, are particularly concerned. Some strategies people are using themselves to try to avoid the more contaminated food products include:

• Avoiding foods from certain prefectures. But this is not as easy to do as one might assume.
• Joining cooperatives which re-test the food products they sell. But there is a price mark-up to cover the cost of such testing, which excludes people who are not as well off.
• Buying canned or frozen or dried products which were packaged prior to March, 2011.
• Diversification: for instance, rotating the brand of milk they buy so that their risks are reduced from any single one.
• Avoiding certain fresh food items altogether which they feel might be more likely to be contaminated, such as leafy greens, fresh milk.
• Eating imported foods as much as possible.

A few meals of food with high radiation levels are unlikely to hurt most people. But eating such food regularly over a period of time, has been shown by research to increase certain cancer risks as well as lead to other health problems, particularly if you are also being exposed to such contaminants from other sources (such as your water, or the environment). Yes, it is a good idea to be careful.

To your good health,

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