Tue, Dec 05, 2017 - Page 8 News List

[ LETTER ]

Radioactivity standards

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Nov. 25 announced that Uni-President Enterprises Corp’s dietary supplement Yu-bei “eye and brain protection capsules” has been found to contain cesium-137 exceeding four times the legal limit.

The capsules are a health supplement for the eyes. Each bottle contains 60 capsules.

Although the product has passed tests conducted by the FDA, one of its ingredients, Extracyan — a cateco-anthocyanidins standardized extract of bilberry fruit — has been found to contain radioactive cesium-137 that produced 477 becquerels per kilogram (Bq/kg).

The ingredient was imported from France. According to EU standards, 1,200Bq/kg is perfectly safe. Likewise, it would not have been found illegal in the US. However, in Taiwan and Japan, due to their governments’ ridiculously high standards, the product cannot be sold.

The unit used to measure radioactivity is the becquerel, which is also the unit used to set the safety limits for radiation levels in food. One can convert becquerel to sievert, which is used to measure the health effects of radiation doses on the human body. Every 1,000Bq amounts to 0.013 millisievert (mSv).

Keeping the EU radioactivity limit of 1,200Bq per kilogram in mind, let us consider the health effects of taking one Yu-bei capsule per day for an entire year.

Assuming that one capsule weighs 10g, or 0.01kg, 1,200 multiplied by 365 and then multiplied by 0.01 equals 4,380Bq. This means doses of less than 0.06 sievert, and the FDA’s tests have found 477Bq/kg in Extracyan, only 0.025mSv.

What does 0.025mSv mean? Taking one flight in an airplane would result in exposure to radioactivity that is four times that amount.

Average levels of radioactivity in nature are 2mSv to 3mSv, while in Sweden the average is 5mSv to 6mSv. Exposure to radioactivity during one flight is estimated to be between 0.1mSv and 0.21mSv, while pilots are exposed to several dozen mSv per year.

In Guarapari, a famous tourist destination near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the natural radiation levels are about 10mSv per year, but local residents love to spend time on the beach and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

Ten mSv is even higher than the radiation levels detected in the town of Iitate, Fukushima Prefecture, which was entirely evacuated following the meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in 2011.

The government’s standards for radioactivity in food are a joke, as they are not in line with international standards.

Equally laughable is the government’s ban on food products imported from areas in Japan affected by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries on Nov. 21 announced that Saudi Arabia had lifted a rule on Japanese food imports to the country that required Japanese exporters to provide documents showing the radiation levels of food products from Fukushima, Miyagi, Tokyo and nine other prefectures.

Those documents are now no longer required.

For how long must Taiwan remain an international laughingstock for refusing to change its standards for radioactivity in food?

Liu Chen-chien

Taipei

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