Radiation Fear Prompts Aeon to Test Wagyu Beef
for Cancer-Causing Cesium
Jul 28, 2011
that nuclear radiation fallout is contaminating meat
prompted Aeon Co., owner of Japan’s biggest supermarket
chain, to start testing beef for cancer-causing substances.
Aeon will start selling beef today in Tokyo stores tested
by an independent laboratory to be within safe limits for
radioactive cesium, it said in a statement. The heightened
surveillance may boost confidence in the safety of beef
after agriculture officials said July 26 that 2,906 cattle
ate tainted feed, potentially leading to contaminated meat.
Prolonged exposure to radiation in the air, ground and
food can cause leukemia and other cancers, according to the
London- based World Nuclear Association. Japanese consumers
have spurned beef, causing prices to slump, after meat
exceeding cesium safety limits was found in supermarkets --
adding to evidence that fallout from Tokyo Electric Power
Co.’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant has entered the food
“No matter what it takes and how much it costs, we have
to check all the beef to remove consumer fears,” Shohei
Murai, an Aeon senior executive, told reporters in Tokyo
The retail market in Japan for meat and meat products
grew 7 percent in the past decade to 5.9 trillion yen ($76
billion) in 2010, according to London-based Euromonitor
The tested Wagyu beef products, sold under Aeon’s Topvalu
brand, will be stocked in 115 supermarkets in and around
Tokyo before being made available nationwide, the retailer
said. Topvalu accounts for 60 percent of Aeon’s domestic
beef products, and the company will ensure its other
domestically produced beef is tested after September, said
Yasuhide Chikazawa, a corporate officer at Aeon.
“Aeon is a very savvy company,” Melanie Brock, the Tokyo-
based regional manager for trade group Meat and Livestock
Australia, said in a telephone interview today. “Their
decision to test all beef, I think, is likely to be the way
forward” for other sellers, said Brock, who also chairs the
Australian and New Zealand Chamber of Commerce in Japan.
Nippon Meat Packers Inc. (2282), Japan’s biggest meat
processor, is considering measures around cattle
inspections, Kohei Akiyama, a company spokesman, said in a
phone interview today.
“We are asking our business partners to test all the beef
produced across Japan for cesium, regardless of the region
in which it was produced and the kind of cattle it’s from,
and we have been doing this gradually since July 22,”
Nagatoshi Nii, a spokesman for Seven & I Holdings Co.,
Japan’s biggest retailer and operator of the Ito-Yokado
supermarket chain, said in a telephone interview yesterday.
Japan asked Miyagi prefecture to stop the movement of
beef cattle from the area after cesium was found in beef
sourced from the region, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano
said today. Miyagi was one of the prefectures worst affected
by the March 11 tsunami that led to the meltdown at the
Tochigi prefecture, north of Tokyo, will check all beef
exported from the area for radioactive materials, Kyodo News
reported today without citing anyone.
Aeon, based in Chiba, near Tokyo, has contracts with
1,500 farmers across the country supplying its Topvalu Wagyu.
Half the farms are on the southern tip of Japan’s southern
island of Kyushu, more than 1,000 kilometers (600 miles)
from the Fukushima plant. Aeon said it controls what cattle
used for Topvalu Wagyu products eat and drink.
Under the retailer’s testing program, 1-kilogram
(2-pound) samples are taken from each cattle carcass and
sent to one of five laboratories in Japan for testing to
confirm the meat doesn’t contain levels of cesium 134 and
137 exceeding government safety standards.
Aeon aims to double its offering of Topvalu Wagyu
products, which it plans to sell in its 1,000 outlets by
August, according to the company’s statement. It will also
increase imports of beef from the Australian island-state of
Tasmania by 30 percent to 50 percent, and sell the products
under the Topvalu brand, Aeon said.