Where to Find Safe Food??

Written by Terrie Lloyd for Terrie’s Take.

On July 4th we wrote a piece joining the dots on radiation concentrations in places around Tokyo where there  should not be any. It seemed to us that radioactive nuclides, like non-radioactive heavy metals, appear to be able to be concentrated under certain circumstances and therefore even though the atmosphere registers as clean, perhaps we should still be worried about our food supply.

That article generated a lot of response, especially from readers with children, wondering what they could do to limit possible exposure to contamination. Normally we don’t stick to a subject like this — we like to move our focus around a bit. However, barely ten days after our Take, it emerged in the Japanese press that in fact cattle from Fukushima which tested clean on the outside were found to have 2,300 becquerels per kilo (2,300 bq/kg) of Cesium-137, about five times the legal limit, when slaughtered. What’s
worse, over one ton of the meat found its way into the food supply, being sold all over the country.

Since then a number of other disturbing “finds” have arisen in the press, indicating that not only were there some very ill-informed decisions made by authorities as to what to do with animal products (meat, milk, fish) in the period immediately after the explosions at the Fukushima plant, but that there still seems to be some sleight-of-hand going on for government food health statistics.

The latest thing to catch our attention, which we appreciate receiving from the well-informed folks at http://www.safecast.org, is the news that contaminated milk from Fukushima has been mixed with product at factories located as far as the northernmost parts of Tohoku. So if you thought you were buying from a safe producing area, the milk authorities have had different ideas.

This milk mixing revelation, so far unsubstantiated, comes from a Prof. Takeda in his blog, but it appears to be backed up by a Sankei newspaper article revealing that the authorities stopped monitoring Cesium levels at individual milk producers in April, and instead started monitoring cooling stations where the output comes from many farmers, including those from safe areas. Naturally the numbers were evened out and those farms with “hot” output were no longer obvious as they got diluted with less-contaminated product. Thus it was that on April 26 the ban on the sale of milk from Fukushima was lifted.

If you want to see which brands have been engaging in this dubious practice, go here.

OK, so we have the authorities trying to keep the dairy business in Fukushima going through what we think is a quite unethical practice. We suppose that in a twisted logic sort of way, their rationale of diluting dirty product with clean makes sense, since it keeps radiation numbers below the limits. But would you drink it if you knew this?

Our take on what to buy, what to avoid:

1. Leaf and Root Vegetables
The advice we’ve had so far is to generally avoid any vegetables from Fukushima and possibly northern parts of Ibaraki. If you can’t do this, and often vegetables are not labeled as to their source anyway, then you’ll be wanting to eat veges that grow deeper in the ground (Cesium tends to stick to the top 5cm surface layer) or better still, eat hydroponically grown veges for a while. There is a plentiful supply of hydroponic Romaine lettuce, sprouts, rucola, sunny lettuce, and other veges.

2. Rice
More concerning in a couple of months time will be new harvest rice. It seems that rice planting was given the go ahead in Fukushima after what appears to have been faulty soil testing procedures. The government cut-off for soil samples is 5,000 bq/kg of Cesium-134/137, and the Fukushima government was getting 4,000bq/kg in their samples. However, they were taking samples 5-15cm deep, while Cesium sticks to the surface. Apparently a rice farmer took a sample from the top 5cm of his land rather than below that depth and had it independently tested. He found it was contaminated to the tune of 35,000 bq/kg!!! Documented here.

Incompetence? Purposeful manipulation of the tests? Hard to say, but our advice about rice is clear. We would stock pile with last year’s crop, before the new Fukushima product makes its way into the food system. Rice keeps forever in the fridge anyway, so we advise buying some month’s supply and let the media do the sleuthing of whether or not the new season’s product is safe or not.

3. Mushrooms
We would stay away from mushrooms that come from Fukushima and any neighboring prefectures to the West and North — since this is where the wind patterns blew some of the Cesium-137 from the explosions. Mushrooms with gills, such as shiitake, are apparently very efficient at absorbing nuclides due to their not having roots and stems. Wild mushrooms near Chernobyl are still showing up with contamination 25 years after the event.

4. Fruits
The best thing about summer is peaches, and fall the apples — two kings of Japanese fruit growing industry. Our guess is that only a small quantity of these fruits are grown in Fukushima and surrounds, and considering the volume you’d be eating they pose a low risk. However, berries of all types grown outdoors in and around Fukushima-ken should probably be avoided — these are another source of contamination from Chernobyl experience.

5. Proteins
Probably the biggest concern is about milk. As mentioned, it has come out that the milk authorities have been mixing Fukushima-sourced product with clean milk from other areas, presumably so as to dilute it. We ONLY buy milk that expressly says it comes from Hokkaido right there on the packet. Our rationale is that it would constitute false advertising if they were to mix it with product from somewhere else.

Fukushima is a major producer of eggs and pork, which we would avoid for the time being, unless they’re labeled as being from somewhere else, or are imported product. What to do with beef is less clear, despite the scandal over mixing contaminated product, because public awareness will probably keep supplier shenanigans to a minimum from now on. However, thanks to the fact that Japan imports so much of its food anyway, as one consumer said on TV recently, “If it’s Aussie beef, I’ll eat it.” Yup, you have plenty of alternatives. Try Costco if you want foreign food.

No one seems to know what to do about fish. Personally, we’d stay away from fish that obviously comes from the area, Sanma (Pacific Saury), etc. Instead, it’s not that hard to stick to imported salmon, colder water fish such as Hokke (Mackerel) which comes from the Sea of Okhotsk, shrimp, and other varieties that are unlikely to be locally sourced.

6. Bread and Processed Soy Products
Most of Japan’s cereals are imported, particularly flour (wheat), so we think these products are safe. Soy on the other hand may wind up being a “mixed bag” (like milk?). Right now about 2/3 of Japan’s soybeans come from abroad, primarily the USA and South America, but of the remaining 1/3, 25% comes from Tohoku. We don’t know how much comes from Fukushima in the south, but our guess from agriculture production figures, is that it’s not much.

7. Local Organic and Traceable Sources
If you are particularly concerned about source of produce, then consider shopping online. If you use Radish Boya (http://www.radishbo-ya.co.jp), an organic food supplier which is extremely popular and well priced, they state where the food comes from. Lots of Ibaraki-ken sourced product, though, so we’re not sure how good this is. Other prefectures where they appear to have contract farms producing in large volume are in Chiba and Gunma — both of which had less exposure to the fall-out from the explosions. Radish Boya also tests its food for radiation and generally to date they have been reliable with food safety awareness — their brand would be destroyed overnight if they weren’t.

8. Kyushu sourcing
If you are really concerned, then you could consider sourcing from Kyushu and other further locations. Here are some links to such sites. Again all in Japanese.


Lastly, we wish to keep things in perspective. At the levels Cesium is being detected in our food in and around Tokyo (versus right next to the Fukushima plant), the situation appears to still be safe for adults. As an indication, the US government says that if 100,000 people were continuously exposed to a layer of soil with an initial average concentration of 1 pCi/g (by our calculations, about 37bq/kg) of Cesium-137, then 6 individuals would be predicted to die of cancer that could be related to the exposure. This compares to about 20,000 people who would die from other types of cancer (US average). The Japanese limit for food is 300 bq/kg, and in eating such food, you would be excreting most Cesium-137 nuclides within 30 days.

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Terrie Lloyd.
COO of BiOS, Inc.
BiOS, Inc.