July 18, 2011

Japan Warns Of Contaminated Beef From Fukushima

Japan's government plans to suspend all cattle shipments from Fukushima after the country's second-biggest retailer reported Sunday it had sold beef from cattle that ate nuclear-contaminated feed, Reuters reports.

The country, which is still suffering the after-effects of the March earthquake and tsunami that devastated the region, has already dealt with a huge amount of contamination from products such as tea, milk, seafood and water; and the latest issue only adds to an already fueled anxiety.

Senior Vice Health Minister Kohei Otsuka said beef from surrounding areas may also be affected.

The forthcoming ban comes after 136 cows were found to have eaten feed contaminated with radioactive caesium.

"The most likely outcome is that we will ban beef shipments," said Goshi Hosono, the cabinet minister responsible for the nuclear cleanup. "We have to ensure food safety."

The feed was harvested from rice paddies in Fukushima prefecture after the earthquake and tsunami knocked out the critical cooling systems at the Fukushima nuclear plant leading to a meltdown.

Four months after the disaster radiation is still leaking from the plant. Although there have been more than 15,000 deaths from the March disaster, none have been reported from the meltdown itself. 

Aeon Co., the company responsible for the contaminated beef, said it was sold to 14 of its stores in Tokyo and more than a dozen other stores in the area. The company told Reuters in a statement that cattle from Fukushima prefecture were given feed contaminated with levels of radioactive caesium exceeding the government's limits.

The company said it had sold 703 pounds of the beef from April 27 to June 20 to shops in Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, Shizuoka and Ishikawa. It said it would start checking beef shipments from all areas that could potentially have contaminated feed.

Caesium three to six times higher than the safe limits was found in beef shipped last week to a Tokyo store from a farmer in Minami Soma City, near Tokyo Electric Power Co's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

But a Farm Ministry official said consuming such meat only a few times would pose no immediate health risks.

The government acknowledged that the beef problem could be wider than just Fukushima.

The initial discovery of contaminated beef was traced to farms near the Fukushima plant, but more recent discoveries are from farms as far as 70 miles from the damaged power plant.

Shipments of some vegetables have also been halted from the area due to high levels of radiation.


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