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Radiation Fears, Shipment Bans, Weigh Heavily
On Mushroom Pickers, Growers


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The ban on wild mushroom shipments from 43 Fukushima Prefecture municipalities announced on Sept. 15, paired with widespread radiation fears, is discouraging pickers from their usual mushroom-hunting trips into the woods.

The ban came after wild mushrooms containing cesium beyond the legal limit of 500 becquerels per kilogram were found in the prefecture. Tawny milkcap mushrooms containing cesium over the legal limit, meanwhile, have also been found in Takahagi, Ibaraki Prefecture, endangering mushroom-picking in that region as well.

In the town of Tanagura in Fukushima, tawny milkcap mushrooms picked this month were found to contain 28,000 becquerels of cesium, or 56 times the legal limit. The town is famous for matsutake mushroom hunting between the end of September and late October each year.

The town holds an annual mushroom festival in October, and the festival is a big draw for the matsutake mushrooms in Japanese sake on offer, as well as a bingo game offering expensive locally harvested matsutake as a major prize. The events were canceled this year amid radiation concerns, leading an official of the town's tourism association to say, "We wonder if we can hold such events next year."

Tanagura is about 70 kilometers from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station, and it has atmospheric radiation of about 0.2 to 0.3 microsieverts per hour.

The Japanese Society of Soil Science and Plant Nutrition says wild mushrooms are more likely to absorb radioactive materials than other food products. Some studies indicate that mushrooms such as matsutake and tawny milkcap mushrooms, both of which grow out of the ground, tend to register higher levels of radiation than mushrooms which grow on dry vegetation, like maitake and nameko.

The impact of radiation fears is not limited to Fukushima and Ibaraki prefectures, however.

The Jindaira Farm in Nakanojo, Gunma Prefecture, also organizes a mushroom hunting tour every autumn, but the number of participants -- mainly from Tokyo, Saitama and other neighboring prefectures -- is down by half this year. Its 76-year-old owner said, "The mushroom season is going to start soon, but I am worried the effects (of the radiation fears) are going to get worse."

The Mikawa Kanko mushroom park in Aga, Niigata Prefecture, says it has received inquiries from potential visitors about radiation but told them its mushrooms are safe because it grows them indoors.

Amid the radiation furor and news of shipment bans, major mushroom growers are taking measures to defend themselves.

Yukiguni Maitake Co. in Minamiuonuma, Niigata Prefecture, bought testing devices at a price of 15 million yen each, and on Sept. 15 started testing mushrooms for radiation. The firm is posting serial numbers of its mushroom products on its website to allow customers to check the safety of their purchases.

"No radioactive materials have been detected so far, but we want to assure our customers of the safety of our products," a Yukiguni Maitake representative said.

Unlike other farm products, wild mushrooms are picked by mushroom hunters who then bring them to retailers, direct sales stores, and local roadside markets.

The Forestry Agency is advising those planning to go mushrooming to check the websites of respective local governments for the results of radiation tests and gather other pertinent information.

(Mainichi Japan) September 16, 2011




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