Thu, Jan 17, 2013 - Page 12 News List

Nuclear fears contaminate sales

Farmers from Japan’s Tohoku region are struggling to sell their produce to a wary population that remains unconvinced by reassurances of food safety

By Patrice Novotny  /  AFP, TOKYO

Economic consequences

Exports have also been hit, falling 8.3 percent from 2010 to 451.1 billion yen in 2011, according to statistics from the agriculture, forestry and fishery ministry.

“A total of 45 countries and areas restricted food imports from Japan following the nuclear plant accident, resulting in declines in shipments,” a ministry official said. “Generally, they are easing the curbs except for South Korea.”

In the town of Soma, 40km from the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, locally grown rice is often up to scratch but only locals want to buy it.

Masahiro Saito, a chicken farmer who has seen a 20 percent loss in his turnover, feels less unlucky than his cereal and vegetable-growing neighbors, some of whom have had to pack up for good.

“At the peak of the radiation in March 2011, I recorded 5 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kg on my chickens,” said Saito — well below the government limit.

Like most of his counterparts, he has raised his animals on American corn, which explains why he and other farmers have suffered less than others in the region.

But the consequences of the nuclear accident are still being felt two years later on the overall economy, not just agriculture, and on the daily lives of hundreds of thousands of people in the region.

The clean-up around Fukushima is expected to take decades and experts warn that some settlements may have to be abandoned.

Anecdotally, the pressures are mounting and stories of people whose livelihoods have dried up abound in the Japanese press.

The Cabinet Office says up until last November 76 people in the region took their own lives in connection with the disaster.

Of the deaths, 21 were linked to financial and livelihood issues and nine to employment issues, the government said.

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