“Taiwan doesn’t want to become a cesium recycling bin,” members from a dozen civic groups said yesterday in Taipei, asking the Department of Health (DOH) to explain why on June 27 it proposed amending safety regulations to permit higher levels of cesium-134 (Cs-134) and cesium-137 (Cs-137) in food.
The revision of the Standard of Safety Tolerance of Nuclear Fallout or Radioactivity Contamination for Food (食品中原子塵或放射能污染安全容許量標準) would reduce the maximum permissible limit of two particular radioactive isotopes — Cs-134 and Cs-137 — in dairy products and baby food from 370 becquerels per kilogram (Bq/kg) to 200Bq/kg, but increases the limit from 370Bq/kg to 600Bq/kg for other foods.
The department also said it would be fielding input from the public for a 60-day period that will end on Aug. 29.
Homemakers United Foundation president Chen Man-li (陳曼麗) said many civic groups had gathered to voice their concerns about the amended regulation because the DOH had only replied to their suggestions and concerns by stating the revision was made based on professional assessments.
“If the department continues to turn a cold shoulder to us on this issue and is not willing to communicate with people, then we civic groups must speak out to inform the public,” she said.
Wild at Heart Legal Defense Foundation attorney Tsai Ya-ying (蔡雅瀅) said the revised regulation would affect everyone in Taiwan, so there must be discussion, and the government should release research reports so everyone could understand the effects of exposure to the radioactive isotopes.
The DOH should consider the actual environment and eating habits in Taiwan, such as Taiwan’s reliance on many imported foodstuffs, low rates of breast feeding and the possibility of higher radioactive exposure in the environment due to Taipei being close to three nuclear power plants, she said.
“The DOH should hold public hearings or symposiums on the risk of exposure,” she said. “Since the government said it has examined samples of imported food, it should make public the actual radiation levels it detected and the names of the products, so consumers can make informed choices.”
Yukiko Komiya, a Japanese woman who got married in Taiwan and has lived here for more than 10 years, said many mothers in Japan asked for refunds for a brand of milk powder after its level of Cs-134 and Cs-137 reached 40Bq/kg, but now the revised limit for dairy products and baby food is 200Bq/kg, much higher than the limit of 50Bq/kg in Japan.
The maximum allowable limit of Cs-134 and Cs-137 in Japan for general foodstuffs was raised from 100Bq/kg to 500Bq/kg after the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant crisis last year, sparking controversy, and was lowered back to 100Bq/kg in April, Green Citizen Action Alliance secretary-general Tsuei Su-hsin (崔愫欣) said.
“Setting a safety limit does not mean food with radiation levels below it is harmless to the body … and cesium-137 has a half-life of about 30 years, meaning that radiation levels will only fall to half of their original levels after 30 years, so the radioactive isotopes may continue to harm the body for decades,” the Consumers’ Foundation’s Su Wei-shuo (蘇偉碩) said.
“The government’s risk assessment should be about honestly telling the people about the pros and cons, such as explaining the impact of eating or not eating food contaminated by radioactive isotopes,” Nuclear-Free Homeland Alliance executive director Lee Cho-han (李卓翰) said.
According to the Administrative Procedure Act (行政程序法), the promulgated draft can be altered if civic groups provide sufficient evidence to reject it, lawyer Tien Meng-chieh (田蒙潔) said, adding: “However, the government should make its information available first, or the civic sectors will have difficulties giving applicable suggestions.”