IMPACT OF THE 2011 TSUNAMI IN JAPAN AND FUKUSHIMA CRISIS ON AGRICULTURE

IMPACT OF THE 2011 EARTHQUAKE AND TSUNAMI IN JAPAN ON AGRICULTURE

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Greenpeace Japan
testing for radiation
Japan's agriculture sector suffered $30 billion in losses from the March earthquake and deadly tsunami, which deluged crops, and radiation releases from the Fukushima Daiichi plant. According to the Japanese government 23,600 hectares of farmland was inundated by the tsunami in the Tohoku and Kanto regions, Miyagi Prefecture suffered the worst damage, with 15,000 hectares of farmland in five cities flooded by seawater---more than 50 percent of the total farmland in those cities. Places where tsunami waters receded quickly suffering relatively minor damage to the soil. Places were farmland remained flooded for some time and salt was deposited in the soil into the suffered significant soil damage that would require at least a year to restore.

Things may be much worse for those living near the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Fukushima’s 70,000 commercial farmers produce more than $2.4 billion worth of spinach, tomatoes, milk and other popular foods a year. Many of them felt abandoned by the government which they felt worried first about Tokyo and only concerned themselves to areas struggling the full brunt of the earthquake-tsunami disaster as an afterthought.

Reporting from Towa in Fukushima Prefecture Michael Wines wrote in the New York Times: “Mr. Sato, 59, is a 17th-generation family farmer, a proprietor of 14 acres of greenhouses and fields where he grows rice, tomatoes, spinach and other vegetables. Or did grow...Already, Mr. Sato stands to lose a fifth of his income because of the ban. If the government cannot contain the Daiichi disaster, he could lose a farm that his family has tended since the 1600s.”[Source: Michael Wines, New York Times, March 29, 2011]

“Even if it’s not safe, I need my fields for my work. I have no other place to go. I don’t even want to think about escaping from my land,” he told the New York Times. “I can’t keep going for too long,” said Kenzo Sasaki, 70, who milks 18 cows on a farm outside the city of Fukushima. Mr. Sasaki estimates that he is losing nearly $31,000---not including the cost of feeding his herd---for every month that the sales ban continues. Across town, Shoichi Abe, 62, milks about 30 cows in his own dingy barn. He has been unable to sell his 1,100 pounds of daily production since the March 11 earthquake damaged the milk-processing plant at the local farm co-op. Now the government has extended that prohibition indefinitely. Mr. Abe said, “It’s costing us 70,000 yen a day---about $860. [Ibid]

“We have no income,” he said, “and the truth is that we don’t want to continue this. All the agriculture is gone. The consumers don’t want to buy products from Fukushima Prefecture, so we can’t sell them. It’s the rumor problem.” To a person, the farmers say their products are safe to eat and drink. None of the growers interviewed had been visited by anyone seeking to monitor radiation on their land. The government’s radiation readings---to the extent that they have been publicized---have been ambiguous at best. [Ibid]

In early April, the Japanese government restricted the planting of rice in soil with more than 5,000 becquerels per kilogram of cesium. Levels that high had been found in farms near the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Rice paddies in Iitatemura have given off readings as high as 15,031 becquerels per kilogram. Parts of Iitatemura are between 20 and 30 kilometers from the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Rice production in Fukushima Prefecture is the forth highest in Japan at 450,000 tons annually. The 5,000 becquerel number was reached based on research that shows rice absorbs one tenth of radioactive cesium in the soil. Since 500 becquerels per kilogram is the limit for consumed rice under the Japanese Food Sanitation Law then 5,000 becquerels per kilogram made sense for the soil limit because 500 is one tenth of 5,000.

Farmers and the 2011 Tsunami

According to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, fishery and agricultural industries had suffered about ¥1.4 trillion ($160 billion) worth of damage. There are no official estimates yet of how much farmland was affected. A rough calculation based on last year’s harvest in tsunami-hit towns indicates that at most 8 percent of Japan’s 1.6 million hectares of rice farms has been hit, affecting about 4 percent of the total production. [Source: AP, March 27, 2011]

Reporting from Sendai an AP journalist wrote, “The rice paddies on the outskirts of this tsunami-hit city are ankle-deep in a black, salty sludge. Crumpled cars and uprooted trees lie scattered across them. His house destroyed, rice farmer Shinichi Shibasaki lives on a square of blue tarp on the top floor of a farming cooperative office with others like him. He has one set of soiled clothes. However, all he can think about is getting back to work.” “If we start washing the soil out now, we can start growing our rice seedlings at the end of April at a different location, and plant them here a month later,” the 59-year-old said. [Source: AP, March 27, 2011]

“In the small city of Natori, Akemi Miura can only laugh as she looks at the land around her home, which her family has worked for more than a century,” AP reported. “However, the 46-year-old said they will replant, though she thinks it will take a few years for the soil to recover. A fishing boat washed more than 1.5km inland smashed into her carnation greenhouse and caught fire. Debris and a thick, sticky mud covers the fields.” “I think we’re finished with carnations, but we’ll always grow rice,” she said. [Ibid]

High Salinity in Farmland

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Greenpeace Japan
testing for radiation
Hideo Kamata and Tomoko Hatakeyama wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Farmland flooded by seawater as a result of the March 11 tsunami will take years to recover from the excess salinity and become arable again, leaving farmers in a quandary about how to get their businesses up and running again. More than two months after the Great East Japan Earthquake, little progress has been made to restore affected regions' agricultural industries, which were also hurt by rumors about the safety of products following the series of accidents at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. [Source: Hideo Kamata and Tomoko Hatakeyama, Yomiuri Shimbun, May 23 2011]

“In the six prefectures hit hardest by the tsunami, a total of 23,600 hectares of farmland was damaged. Sixty percent of the total, or 15,000 hectares, is in Miyagi Prefecture. According to experts, it will be three to five years before land heavily salinized by seawater flooding recovers enough for crops to be grown there. Because of this, some farmers in coastal regions of Miyagi Prefecture have decided to form a collective to work inland plots that have not been in use.” [Ibid]

Nobuo Awano, a farmer, in Wakabayashi Ward, Sendai, near the Natorigawa river, grows spinach and Japanese radishes. Most of his two-hectare plot was was flooded with seawater on March 11. He has tried to grow leeks in the soil, but they rotted at the root. "The area I'm tilling is down to about one-tenth the size of what I'd work in a regular year," Awano said. [Ibid]

Local officials are working hard to revive the region's agricultural industry, and some farmers whose fields were flooded are considering organizing as a collective to work unoccupied plots inland. Agricultural co-op JA Sendai's operations cover about 7,000 hectares for rice and other crops, and about 2,000 hectares of that land--including Awano's plot--were drenched with seawater by the tsunami. Shusaku Takano, the manager of JA Sendai, said, "The [Wakabayashi Ward] district was a supply base for rice and vegetables for Sendai, a city with a population of 1 million," acknowledging the impact that can result from damage to one farming district. [Ibid]

The co-op has decided to lease idle land and make it available to farmers. It is also renting tools and machinery to farmers who lost equipment in the disaster. JA Sendai hopes member farmers will be able to plant crops such as Chinese cabbages in June. Although the prefectural government has expressed support for such a move, a number of farmers are reluctant to join the plan. "They don't want to be that far [from their own land]," Takano said. [Ibid]

Japanese Farmers Recover After the Tsunami

“Agriculture experts---as well as Indonesian farmers hit by a tsunami in 2004---say a quick recovery is possible, maybe within a year,” AP reported. “A key factor will be how long it takes for the salt to wash out from the fields, some still flooded with seawater.” Makie Kokubun, a professor at Tohoku University in Sendai, told AP, Japan’s coastal farmland has been damaged by salt from major typhoons in the past and farmers have been able to flush it clean. “Recovery may be faster than some think. The key is the water flow through the land, which varies by region,” he said. “There is also some evidence that light salt can actually help crops grow, though this is obviously in far greater amounts.” [Source: AP, March 27, 2011]

The 2004 tsunami ravaged rice fields in Indonesia’s Aceh Province and scientists made dire predictions of years without a crop. However, many recovered quickly. “Thank God, we were able to harvest rice just one year after the tsunami decimated my rice fields,” said Sulaiman Abdullah, 55, who farms 1,30 square meters in the village of Beuradeuen. “And the quality is even better than it was before, maybe because the mud, garbage and sea water brought in by the wave made the land more fertile,” he added. [Ibid]

Even if the soil recovers, farmers in Fukushima Prefecture---known for the light and sticky koshihikari strain of rice preferred by many Japanese---face another problem. Radiation from a damaged nuclear power complex has found its way into vegetables, raw milk and the water supply. Japanese consumers are notoriously fickle about food safety and may shun Fukushima products, even if health experts say the radiation is not a threat. [Ibid]

Many of the tsunami victims came from coastal families that have farmed for generations. In Miyagi Prefecture, the province that includes Sendai and Natori, farmland was converted from swamps about 400 years ago to generate funds for the local ruler. Now some older farmers, their homes gone and land in tatters, are saying they will call it quits. In Natori, 60-year-old rice farmer Kikuo Endo points to a shed full of ruined farm equipment, which he estimates was worth ¥10 million (US$125,000). He doesn’t know if insurance will cover it. “People shouldn’t give up, but I don’t think I will farm again,” he said. “It’s time to pass the baton to the next generation.” There may not be one. His three sons, he said, have abandoned the fields and moved to the city. [Ibid]

In the first supplementary budget passed in May 2011 farmers got ¥5.2 billion. Payments included ¥35,000 to rice farmers for every 0.1 hectare of land and ¥40,000 to growers of fruit and vegetables. IMPACT OF THE 2011 TSUNAMI AND FUKUSHIMA CRISIS ON FISHING

RADIATION IN THE FOOD AND WATER AS FAR SOUTH AS TOKYO

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remote controlled digger
Radiation leaking from the Fukushima nuclear power plant complex contaminated food produced in surrounding farmland and seeped into groundwater beneath the site. Elisabeth Rosenthal wrote in the New York Times, “Ten days after an earthquake and tsunami crippled a nuclear plant in Japan, officials are detecting abnormal levels of radiation in what may seem like a scattershot assortment of foods: milk from Fukushima Prefecture, where the reactors sit; spinach from Ibaraki Prefecture to the south; canola from Gunma Prefecture to the west; and chrysanthemum greens from Chiba to the south. Shipments of the milk and spinach have been banned. A farm in Fukushima Prefecture, about 30 miles west of the damaged nuclear plant. Radiation has been found in milk in the area.”

The government banned the sale of produce and milk from Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma Prefectures, a large swath of territory that extended from north of the plant almost all the way southward to Tokyo.. Across the region, farmers dumped millions of gallons of milk and tons of ripe vegetables into pits and streams, unable to sell their products legally on the open market.

On the testing of food for radioactivity, Japan’s Kyodo News reported: “Although all the local authorities are required to conduct the tests, they will mainly be enforced on the fresh foods produced in municipalities related to the (nuclear power plant) accident,” said Kohei Otsuka, vice minister for health, labor and welfare. At present, no food has shown levels exceeding the standard, the health ministry said. The standard, which the ministry set up based on the reference index by the Nuclear Safety Commission, is relatively higher than international standards, Otsuka said.

“The decision is likely to spark criticism from food distributors.” Kyodo said. “A store manager in Tokyo said he may be unable to sell foods produced in the vicinity of nuclear power plants as the tests may evoke harmful rumors about products from the area. “The government is spurring the crisis. The decision makes it look as if contaminated food is already on the market,” said Tatsuya Kakita, the head of a research institute on consumer issues. According to the instruction, the ministry can order shipments to be suspended if the foods are found with radioactive levels exceeding the provisional standard under the Japanese food sanitation law.

The government’s standard sets a limit of 200 becquerel cesium per 1 kilogram of milk and dairy products and 500 becquerel per 1 kg of vegetables, grains, meat and eggs. For levels of radioactive iodine, the standard allows 300 becquerel for 1 kilogram of drinking water and 2,000 becquerel for a kilogram of vegetables. Japan’s Health Ministry provided local governments with advice on the “handling of food contaminated by radioactivity.”A becquerel is a unit for measuring a substance's radioactivity, and is equal to the number of nuclear decays per second. A sievert is a unit to quantify the biological effects of radiation. Becquerels can be converted into sieverts through a formula that factors in elements including the type of nucleus and type of radiation exposure. [Source: Robert Mackey, New York Times]

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Prime Minister Noda eating rice balls to show rice from Fukushima is safe

The second page of the ministry’s letter to local officials includes a table that specifies the exact levels of radioactive iodine, radioactive cesium, uranium and alpha-emitting nuclides of plutonium and transuranic elements that are considered dangerous in foods, according to the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan. [Ibid]

Supermarkets and hotels across Asia began limiting Japanese food imports. India said it would suspend food imports from Japan for about three months due to concerns about radiation-contaminated food entering the country. China banned Japanese dairy and aquatic products, vegetables and fruit from the five prefectures nearest the Fukushima nuclear power plant. In China there was panic-buying of salt spurred by the belief that iodine in the salt would offer protection from the radiation. South Korea stopped importing Japanese fish. The Philippines suspended cookie and chocolate imports,. The U.A.E. banned all fresh food imports from Japan.

In some municipalities residents were advised not to drink the tap water. After radioactive iodine was detected in Tokyo’s water supply the government issued a warning that infants should not consume the city’s tap water there. This announcement was made after water with 210 becquerels of radioactive iodine per kilogram was found in water from a treatment plant in Katsushika Ward in Tokyo (the safe limit for infants is 100 becquerels of radioactive iodine per kilogram, for adults 300 becquerels per kilogram). This and fears about spreading contamination from a crippled nuclear plant led to a panicked rush to buy water in Tokyo. So much bottle water was bought it became scarce nationwide, Japanese authorities considered a plan to import bottled water from overseas. The Tokyo government promised to hand out 240,000 bottles of water to 80,000 families with infants. Some also became alarmed by “yellow rain,” caused by pollen not radiation.


Fears Over Japanese Food

Farmers Living Near the Fukushima Nuclear Plant

Fukushima’s 70,000 commercial farmers produce more than $2.4 billion worth of spinach, tomatoes, milk and other popular foods a year. Many of them felt abandoned by the government which they felt worried first about Tokyo and only concerned themselves to areas struggling the full brunt of the earthquake-tsunami disaster as an afterthought.

Reporting from Towa in Fukushima Prefecture Michael Wines wrote in the New York Times: “Mr. Sato, 59, is a 17th-generation family farmer, a proprietor of 14 acres of greenhouses and fields where he grows rice, tomatoes, spinach and other vegetables. Or did grow...Already, Mr. Sato stands to lose a fifth of his income because of the ban. If the government cannot contain the Daiichi disaster, he could lose a farm that his family has tended since the 1600s.”[Source: Michael Wines, New York Times, March 29, 2011]

“Even if it’s not safe, I need my fields for my work. I have no other place to go. I don’t even want to think about escaping from my land,” he told the New York Times. “I can’t keep going for too long,” said Kenzo Sasaki, 70, who milks 18 cows on a farm outside the city of Fukushima. Mr. Sasaki estimates that he is losing nearly $31,000---not including the cost of feeding his herd---for every month that the sales ban continues. Across town, Shoichi Abe, 62, milks about 30 cows in his own dingy barn. He has been unable to sell his 1,100 pounds of daily production since the March 11 earthquake damaged the milk-processing plant at the local farm co-op. Now the government has extended that prohibition indefinitely. Mr. Abe said, “It’s costing us 70,000 yen a day---about $860. [Ibid]

“We have no income,” he said, “and the truth is that we don’t want to continue this. All the agriculture is gone. The consumers don’t want to buy products from Fukushima Prefecture, so we can’t sell them. It’s the rumor problem.” To a person, the farmers say their products are safe to eat and drink. None of the growers interviewed had been visited by anyone seeking to monitor radiation on their land. The government’s radiation readings---to the extent that they have been publicized---have been ambiguous at best. [Ibid]

In early April, the Japanese government restricted the planting of rice in soil with more than 5,000 becquerels per kilogram of cesium. Levels that high had been found in farms near the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Rice paddies in Iitatemura have given off readings as high as 15,031 becquerels per kilogram. Parts of Iitatemura are between 20 and 30 kilometers from the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Rice production in Fukushima Prefecture is the forth highest in Japan at 450,000 tons annually. The 5,000 becquerel number was reached based on research that shows rice absorbs one tenth of radioactive cesium in the soil. Since 500 becquerels per kilogram is the limit for consumed rice under the Japanese Food Sanitation Law then 5,000 becquerels per kilogram made sense for the soil limit because 500 is one tenth of 5,000.


Worried About Radiation in Tokyo

Radiation and Farmers

In May the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “About 20,000 livestock farmers in seven prefectures have been asked to refrain from grazing cattle for the time being because radioactive substances in excess of safety limits have been found in pastures, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry said Tuesday. The ministry's request, made to prevent milk and beef from being contaminated with radioactive substances, will affect 700,000 head of cattle and cost an additional 50 billion yen a year in forage. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, May 18, 2011]

Grass takes root in shallow soil and therefore tends to absorb more radioactive substances. "If we have to buy forage, we'll incur more than 10 million yen in additional costs," Kenji Takahashi, 47, sighed in front of 60 tons of hay at his farm. Takahashi breeds 150 milk cows in Isumi, Chiba Prefecture. In Ichihara, four kilometers from Isumi, 1,100 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram of grass were found in pastureland on April 28. [Ibid]

The Fukushima Prefecture government requested that growers of shiitake mushrooms in some municipalities voluntarily stop shipping shiitake grown outdoors after radioactive substances exceeding government limits were detected. Radioactive substances exceeding government-set limits were detected from shiitake grown in fields in Date, Shinchimachi and Iitatemura in the prefecture. One farmer told the Yomiuri Shimbun, "It's regrettable we have to stop shipments voluntarily, because the price of dried shiitake was rising in recent years." [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, April 12, 2011]

Farmers continued harvesting and shipping shiitake grown in greenhouses, but there were concerns over the possible impact on shiitake grown indoors from rumors and misinformation. A Date farmer who grows shiitake in greenhouses said, "Products cultivated in greenhouses aren't directly linked to the detection of radiation, but we'd like to voluntarily check radiation levels on shiitake in greenhouses with dosimeters." He also expressed concern, saying: "Ordinary consumers don't distinguish between shiitake grown outside and those cultivated in greenhouses. The day might come when nobody will buy our shiitake." [Ibid]

Family members said a Fukushima prefecture farmer who took his life believed he had lost "everything he had ever worked for during his life." The man's daughter told reporters, "We have no idea how long this situation will continue. What will become of us? I think everyone involved in agriculture is worried. I pray there will be no more victims like my father." [Source: Los Angeles Times]

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leaders of Japan, China and South Korea eat cherries to show they are safe

Farmers Affected by the Fukushima Crisis

Japan's agriculture sector suffered $30 billion in losses from the March earthquake and deadly tsunami, which deluged crops, and radiation releases from the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Before the disaster Fukushima Prefecture was Japan’s second largest producer of peaches, 3rd largest producer of Japanese pears, 5th largest producer of apples and 12th largest producer of grapes. Orders of all these fruits plunged after the nuclear power plant crisis due to fears about radiation even though fruit had radiation levels well below government limits. One grower told the Yomiuri Shimbun that orders for his gift peaches were down 70 percent what they were th year before.

Tohoku autumn delicacies went uneaten as curbs on produce shipments and radiation fears dried up demand in normally busy season in Fukushima Prefecture in the fall of 2011. The prefecture's annual matsutake mushroom-hunting event for tourists was canceled. Even though sell pears, the prefecture's specialty, were sold with data that showed they the had low levels of radioactive there were few buyers. One mushroom farmer told the Yomiuri Shimbun, Normally, at this time of the year, we have so many customers that the parking lot overflows. But the number of customers this year is about one-third that of a normal year.” Boxes of pears with a notice indicating "26 becquerels of cesium" failed to reassure customers.

After radioactive cesium exceeding the government-set provisional limit of 500 becquerels per kilogram was detected in some wild mushrooms, the shipment of wild mushrooms was banned in 43 municipalities in in Fukushima Prefecture.

The government said it would compensate tea, mushroom and flower growers who crops had been tainted with radiation, even growers in prefectures such as Gunma, Shizuoka, Kanagaw, Tochigi, Chiba and Ibaraki which are relatively far from the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant.

Effect of Fukushima Radiation on Family Farms

Reporting from Minamisoma, John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times: For nearly 40 years, farmer Eiichi Fukuda has put his faith in the land, trusting the annual yield of the fertile brown soil to help feed his family and the rest of his nation. But these days, the veteran grower has watched the good earth turn dangerous. Nearly 10 months after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was struck by an earthquake-triggered tsunami, releasing radioactive cesium into the atmosphere, many nearby farmers are now at odds with their own land.[Source: John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times, January 4, 2012]

Fukuda's eldest son, Hideaki, refuses to drive the tractor without a glass compartment to protect him from blowing dust. Family members now scrub their boots and work clothes immediately after leaving the field as a precaution against any radioactive residue. And, most telling, they no longer eat the food they grow. "For the first time in my life I'm afraid of my own crops," said Fukuda, 60, a third-generation rice and vegetable farmer whose 50-acre spread sits a few miles from the ailing power plant. "Now we buy everything from the markets, grown far away from the reactor's reach."

As he waits to see how badly his land has been contaminated by radioactivity, Fukuda planted only broccoli this year after he found out through his own Internet research that the plants had a slow absorption rate for cesium. But once harvested, by law the broccoli must be labeled as produce grown in Fukushima, the nuclear zone, a damaging disclaimer that will bring him less than 40 percent of usual market value.

These are dark days for Japan's farmers as a perfect storm of politics, a slumping economy and natural calamity threatens a way of life here that dates back 2,500 years. In recent months, excessive levels of radioactive cesium have been detected in nearly three dozen Fukushima food items, a development that many characterize as a final blow to an already doomed industry.

When the earthquake hit, Fukuda was ready to harvest his tomatoes. Instead, his family fled the farm and left the entire crop to rot in the greenhouses. When he finally returned for rice season, he wasn't sure he should even seed his fields. "I thought, 'What's going to come out of the ground if I plant? Will it be harmful to people?' All of us farmers worry about that."

Without rice or potatoes to grow, Fukuda had time to ponder his future. A practical man, normally so busy that he had to keep his mind on the job at hand, he was suddenly bored. Meanwhile, his son harbors second thoughts about the farm. He doesn't want to drink the local water, and he worries that, unlike his father, he'll live long enough to feel the adverse health effects of cesium exposure, including cancer.

On a sunny afternoon in late autumn, Fukuda walked through one of his broccoli fields, running his hands along the leafy plants. With five years before retirement, he always figured he had time to teach his son all he needed to know to become a successful fourth-generation Fukuda family farmer. Now the future of the family venture is in peril. "Who would have ever guessed that the tsunami could have spawned such a terrible disaster?" he said, kicking at the dirt. "Fukushima products once represented high quality and safety. But the nuclear accident took care of that."

Radiation and Tea

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Greenpeace Japan
testing for radiation
In June 2011, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The government has ordered the suspension of tea leaf shipments from Ibaraki Prefecture and parts of Kanagawa, Chiba and Tochigi prefectures---with some locations 300 kilometers away from the Fukushima nuclear power plant--- after radioactive cesium exceeding government limits was found in fresh and dried leaves. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, June 3, 2011]

The radiation was first detected last month, but since contamination levels change depending on the stage of processing, the decision on limiting shipments was delayed due to internal government debate. It was officially announced Thursday that shipments of tea leaves that exceed the safety limit of 500 becquerels per kilogram should be suspended, no matter what stage of processing the leaves are at. Radioactive cesium in dried ara cha tea leaves are reportedly five times higher than in fresh leaves. [Ibid]

In addition to the whole of Ibaraki Prefecture, the restrictions cover six municipalities both in Kanagawa and Chiba prefectures and two in Tochigi Prefecture. Radiation levels in tea leaves from one municipality in both Fukushima and Gunma prefectures also exceeded the limit, but the government decided not to restrict shipments there and will continue to monitor samples. [Ibid]

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry had called for halting shipments at all stages of processing. However, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, with the support of tea growers, opposed the health ministry's stance, saying the product was safe since radioactive materials are diluted when the leaves are made into tea to drink. The government, however, decided consumers would not accept having tea made from highly contaminated leaves on the shelves. Furthermore, the state judged that even if the tea was safe to drink, the raw leaves could possibly find their way into people's mouths. [Ibid]

The health ministry on May 16 asked local municipalities to start checking radiation levels in ara cha tea leaves, but so far only two municipalities have done so. Ara cha harvested in Minami-Ashigara, Kanagawa Prefecture, was found to contain 3,000 becquerels of radioactive cesium, while 17 becquerels of radioactive cesium was found in leaves from Murakami, Niigata Prefecture. [Ibid]

However, Shizuoka Gov. Heita Kawakatsu has already announced his prefecture would not follow the government's instruction. "We won't conduct inspections on ara cha," he said. "There's only one radiation expert in the Nuclear Safety Commission. It's strange that the fate of Shizuoka's cherished tea industry rests on the opinion of this one person," said Kawakatsu, head of the nation's largest tea-producing prefecture. "Ara cha isn't supposed to be eaten by consumers. It's just a half-finished product. So, something that was done half-heartedly in the name of safety has only increased anxiety," he added.The prefecture conducted its own radiation inspections on fresh leaves in May, showing levels below legal radiation levels. After this, Kawakatsu issued a safety declaration for tea leaves from his prefecture. [Ibid]

In May the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Local farmers have been thrown into confusion after the health and farm ministries expressed differing views over shipments of tea harvested in Kanagawa Prefecture after fresh leaves were found to have exceeded government limits for radioactive cesium...The radiation safety limit for tea leaves is 500 becquerels per kilogram, the same as for vegetables, while the limit for tea drinks is 200 becquerels per kilogram, the same as for drinking water.” [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, May 18, 2011]

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has been trying to restrict shipments of tea leaves from the prefecture about 300 kilometers from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant due to health concerns. The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, however, has claimed that despite the high levels of radioactive material, drinking tea made from the leaves would be safe because the radioactive material would be diluted.” One tea farmer in the prefecture grumbled, "I have no idea what's going to happen. I want them to clear things up." [Ibid]

The French government decided to dispose of green tea shipped from Shizuoka south of Tokyo after radioactive cesium was detected in shipments.

In October 2011, NHK reported, Radioactive cesium in levels above the government standard has been detected in tea leaves produced in Tokyo and Saitama, north of the capital. The contamination is believed to have been caused by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant accident. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government says 3 brands of tea leaves grown in northwestern Tokyo have been found to contain 550 to 690 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram. The government limit is 500 becquerels. The Saitama prefectural government says it found 504 to 2,063 becquerels per kilogram in locally-grown leaves of 97 brands. The samples tested by the prefecture were not early-picked leaves, which are said to be more likely to contain radioactive material. The prefecture had already found that such leaves of 14 brands contained radioactive cesium above the limit. The authorities have asked the producers to dispose of their tea leaf stocks. [Source: japan-afterthebigearthquake.blogspot.com October 19, 2011]

Radiation and Rice

In September 2011, radioactive cesium at levels of 500 becquerels per kilogram was found in rice harvested in Nihonmatsu, about 30 kilometers west of the Fukushima nuclear power plant, according to the prefectural government. The figure is the upper limit of the central government-set limit. The prefectural government examined cesium levels in rice in several other locations near the paddy field in question, but found levels were significantly lower than the government-set limit.

The movement toward voluntary inspections for radioactive substances has spread among rice farmers. Some brought his early-harvest rice to Jrap, Inc., a company that produces and sells farm products in Sukagawa in the prefecture, asking them to check it for radiation. The test results showed no radioactive substances were detected. So far, no radioactive material has been detected in rice, according to the company.

New rice in 2011 is 10 percent to 20 percent more expensive on average than the 2010 crop. A major reason for the increase is believed to be the efforts of wholesalers to purchase rice free of radioactive substances. Preliminary tests carried out by the central government for radioactive substances have detected 500 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram in rice grown in Nihonmatsu, Fukushima Prefecture, the prefecture that hosts the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

A rice production index released by the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry in September 2011 indicated that the amount of rice produced this year is about the same as in normal years. Based on this prediction, rice prices among dealers may stabilize, industry sources said.

In October 2011, farmers in Nihonmatsu City in Fukushima Prefecture began shipping rice from this year's harvest after radioactive contamination levels dropped below the government-set limit. Two trucks carrying 24 tons of rice left a local agricultural cooperative in Nihonmatsu. The city is about 35 to 70 kilometers from the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. In September, a preliminary check of a sample of pre-harvest rice in the city found 500 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram -- the same as the government limit. Rice shipping was allowed after all samples harvested at 288 locations were found to have radioactivity levels below the limit. The highest level among the samples was 470 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram. [Source: japan-afterthebigearthquake.blogspot.com October 18, 2011]

Radioactive Mushrooms

In November it was reported that Yokohama City had stopped using dried shiitake mushrooms in school lunches after detecting 350 becquerels per kilogram of radioactive cesium in its stocks. The city said that it discovered the contamination during its screening of ingredients for school lunches. The same day, 830 becquerels per kilogram of radioactive cesium, exceeding the government's limit of 500 becquerels, was detected in shiitake mushrooms grown outdoors on logs in a city in Ibaraki Prefecture. The city is about 170 kilometers from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. A few days earlier shiitake mushrooms containing radioactive cesium above the official limit were found in 2 cities in Chiba Prefecture. Restrictions have been imposed on shipments of mushrooms grown by the same method in these cities.Yokohama says the radioactive cesium detected in the city was below the government's limit, but it has decided not to use dried shiitake in children's lunches for some time. [Source: japan-afterthebigearthquake.blogspot.com October 28, 2011]

In November 2011, radioactive cesium exceeding the government standard was found in mushrooms grown at a facility in Yokohama City, near Tokyo. About 800 people were served food containing the mushrooms from March through October. The city says high levels of radioactive cesium were found in dried shiitake mushrooms harvested in both months. The contamination is believed to have been caused by the Fukushima nuclear accident. The contamination in March was up to 2,770 becquerels of cesium per kilogram; in October, 955 becquerels per kilogram. Each exceeded the government's standard of 500 becquerels. The facility checked the mushrooms for radioactive contamination this week after concerned citizens inquired about possible contamination in food served there. [Source: japan-afterthebigearthquake.blogspot.com November 5, 2011]

Radioactive Cesium in Baby Milk Powder

In December 2011, Bloomberg reported, radioactive cesium was found in milk powder in Japan made by a Meiji Holdings Co. unit, raising concern that nuclear radiation is contaminating baby food. Meiji week found traces of cesium-137 and cesium- 134 in batches of “Meiji Step” made in March, the Tokyo-based company said yesterday. The probe was triggered by a customer complaint last month. Levels in the 850-gram (30-ounce) cans are within safe limits and don’t pose a health risk, Meiji said. [Source: Kanoko Matsuyama and Yuriy Humber, Bloomberg, December 7, 2011]

Slim Dinsdale, a food safety consultant based in Norwich, England, told Bloomberg, “If it’s just a one-off, “safe” dose then it may well be of a similar level to the background levels residents are routinely exposed to. “I’d want to avoid cesium if I knew it was there, whether it was a safe dose or not.”

Tests conducted on Dec. 3 and 4 found Cesium-134 at levels as high as 15.2 becquerels per kilogram, while cesium-137 reached 16.5 Bq/kg, according to Meiji. A becquerel is a measure of radioactivity. The maximum permissible level for milk and dairy products for infants is 200 Bq/kg, the company said. As a result of the tests, the company said it’s recalling 400,000 cans of “Meiji Step,” a powdered milk formulated for babies older than nine months, packaged in April and mostly distributed in May. The affected cans expire in October 2012.

“The dose is pretty small,” said Richard Wakeford, a visiting professor in epidemiology at the University of Manchester’s Dalton Nuclear Institute. It wouldn’t be necessary to ban the products from a radiological protection point of view, he said. “But you can understand the kind of pressure that the manufacturer would be under in these circumstances.”

Nine-month-old babies would typically consume from 400 milliliters (14 ounces) to 700 milliliters of milk, including 56 grams to 98 grams of powder, Japan’s National Institute of Radiological Science said in an e-mailed response to questions. Daily consumption of the contaminated product could yield about 0.07 microsievert of radiation for a 9-month-old baby and 0.03 microsievert for a 1-year-old toddler, it said. The majority of other Meiji milk products produced around the time that the contaminated items were made weren’t found to have cesium levels above 5 becquerels per kilogram, the institute said.

The products were made at a factory in Saitama prefecture, about 200 kilometers southwest of the Fukushima plant, between March 14 and March 20, the company said. The raw milk had been produced before the March 11 disaster and water used in the production process wasn’t found to be contaminated, Meiji said.

The presence of cesium at the levels found indicates contamination from nuclear fission products, possibly as a result of explosions at Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501)’s Fukushima plant, said Stephen Lincoln, a professor of chemistry at the University of Adelaide in South Australia. “There is only one source of cesium in that milk: nuclear fission from a nuclear reactor or spent fuel,” Lincoln said in an interview yesterday. “There may be parts around Fukushima that will have to be evacuated for 100 years. There is no way you can make radioactive decay happen more swiftly.”

Cesium-Contaminated Beef

20111108-Greenpeace Japan Aeon 28522_55975.jpg
Greenpeace Japan
testing for radiation
In July 2011 it became known that some beef cattle in Fukushima and Miyagi prefectures had been fed rice straw contaminated with high-levels of radioactive cesium. The only problem was that meat from some of these cattle had been shipped all over Japan to 37 prefectures, including Toyama, Nara, Yamaguchi, Tokyo, Kanagawa, Osaka, Hyogo and Fukuoka prefectures, and in some cases was eaten, sold at some of Japan’s largest supermarket chains and served at restaurants.

A total of 143 cows fed rice straw contaminated with high levels of radioactive cesium were shipped to meat processing plants, and radioactive cesium exceeding provisional legal limits was detected in some of their meat.

In July and August 2010, the Japanese government instructed the governments in Miyagi, Fukushima, Iwate and Tochigi prefectures to halt cattle shipments from the prefectures. The ban was lifted on beef shipments from Miyagi Prefecture in late August but the government decided not to lift its ban on cattle shipments from Fukushima Prefecture for some time as beef contaminated with excessive radioactive cesium had been detected there, [Source: Kyodo, August 20, 2010]

In August 2011, the agriculture ministry said it would purchase the meat of all cows suspected of being fed contaminated rice straw---3,500 cows, including 56 in which radioactive cesium has been detected above the regulatory limit. Sales of beef fell throughout Japan. The whole episode was the nail in the coffin for Fukushima beef farmers. Agura Bokuju, operator of a cattle ranch in Tochigi Prefecture , became Japan’s biggest corporate failure, with debts of around $5 billion, after fears of contaminated beef killed sales.

Restrictions on Food Imports from Japan

About 40 countries and territories, including the United States and China, imposed restrictions on food imports from Japan. The European Union, Indonesia, Malaysia and South Korea insisted the Japanese government provide documents certifying radiation checks had been conducted on export produce. Three months after nuclear crisis began only Canada has lifted such restrictions. But over time overseas restrictions on Japanese food imports were eased. Thailand eased its restrictions in late May 2011.

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “At the outset of the nuclear crisis, the Chinese government imposed a complete ban on imports of food from Tokyo, Fukushima, Ibaraki and nine other prefectures close to the nuclear power plant. Beijing said products from other prefectures could be imported if they came with government-issued documents certifying their place of origin and that they had been subjected to radiation checks. As of June the Chinese and Japanese governments have not yet agreed on a format for those certificates, however, preventing the restrictions from being relaxed. In 2010, China accounted for about 11 percent of Japan's farm product exports, a figure that before the nuclear crisis had been expected to increase rapidly.

The government urged Japanese and foreign diplomats to eat farm products and fish from the quake-stricken area to show they were safe and dispel fears that they were contaminated with radiation. Still everything was not so clean and neat. The French government decided to dispose of green tea shipped from Shizuoka south of Tokyo after radioactive cesium was detected in shipments.

In late May, 2011, Reuters reported, “Chinese and South Korean leaders tasted local produce in Japan's battered northeast, in a show of support for a nation struggling with a humanitarian and nuclear crisis set off by a deadly earthquake and tsunami in March. Premier Wen Jiabao signaled Beijing's willingness to ease restrictions on Japanese food imports imposed by China and other nations, including South Korea, after the disaster crippled the Fukushima nuclear plant and fanned contamination fears...Outside a sports complex that was turned into an evacuation center after the quake, the...leaders ate local cucumbers, tomatoes and other produce to demonstrate the food was safe.” [Source: Kim Kyung Hoon and Sui-Lee Wee, Reuters, May 21, 2011]

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Yomiuri Shimbun, Daily Yomiuri, Japan Times, Mainichi Shimbun, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated October 2012

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