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Japan Finds Radiation in Rice


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Friday, 19 August 2011 | By JURO OSAWA

TOKYO—A Japanese regional government said Friday that it had detected radioactive contamination in rice that was well below hazardous levels, amid continuing worries in Japan over food safety in the wake of the March 11 nuclear disaster there.

Officials from the Chiba prefectural government collect rice samples bound for radiation tests at a field in Katori City on Aug. 4.

It was the first public report to date that radioactive materials had affected rice. As this year's harvest season begins, Japan's rice-growing regions are rushing to make sure that what they ship out this autumn will be safe. Public concerns have been mounting about this staple of the Japanese diet, after a summer food scare sparked by disclosures of the widespread sale of contaminated beef.

The tainted rice was found in Ibaraki prefecture, or state, a southern neighbor to Fukushima prefecture, in a city about 90 miles south of the stricken Fukushima Daiichi power plant. The prefectural government posted a notice on its website saying that it had detected 52 becquerels of radioactive cesium from a kilogram of brown rice collected Aug. 16 from the city of Hokota in the southern part of the prefecture.

The detected level was about one-tenth of Japan's regulatory limit of 500 becquerels per kilogram. No cesium was detected from two other samples taken by the prefecture that day from different locations.

"The level of cesium found in the rice is very low, so this isn't problematic," said Takao Shimizu, a deputy chief of the agriculture ministry's department that oversees distribution of rice. He said that minor contamination is possible because rice can absorb some radioactive elements from the soil. The government prohibits any rice farming on soil contaminated with more than 5,000 becquerels of cesiumper kilogram.

Ibaraki is one of six prefectures in Japan that have reported test results to the agriculture ministry, and more prefectures will likely start testing their rice soon as harvest time approaches. Some harvesting takes place in August, though it mostly takes place in September and October.

In prefectures where airborne radiation readings and soil samples have shown relatively high levels of contamination, the agriculture ministry is asking local officials to conduct more thorough tests by dividing the areas into many small districts.

Also on Friday, the government lifted its ban on the shipment of beef from Miyagi prefecture—imposed July 28 —just north of Fukushima. Miyagi is one of four prefectures where all beef shipments had been halted following the reports of the spread of tainted meat.

The decision to lift the ban was based on a judgment that Miyagi now has an effective system in place to monitor its cattle and prevent any contaminated meat from reaching the market, according to the agriculture ministry. Under the new system, Miyagi will test the meat from every animal from 598 farms—about 11% of the prefecture's 5,396 cattle farms—that had fed its cattle contaminated straw.

As for the cattle from the other farms, the prefecture will test at least one animal from each farm every few months.

Fukushima prefecture, where the government banned beef exports, plans to test every cattle from the danger zone roughly within 18 miles from the nuclear plant, and also from any other farms outside the zone that have fed their cattle contaminated straw. For the rest of the cattle farms, the prefecture plans to test at least one animal from each farm upon shipment.

Still, the government on Friday decided to defer lifting its ban on beef shipments from Fukushima, after discovering a new case of beef contaminated above the limit earlier in the day. Because the reason for contamination wasn't immediately clear, officials will first investigate the case to see if it was also caused by contaminated straw, the agriculture ministry said.




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