Sun, Aug 14, 2011 - Page 5 News List

Mushrooms join list of radiation-threatened foods


Mushrooms are the latest addition to threats facing Japan’s food chain from radiation spewed by Tokyo Electric Power Co’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant.

Nameko mushrooms grown in the open air in Soma, a city about 40km north of the crippled plant, were found to contain nine times the legal limit of cesium, the local government said on Friday. Japan’s farm ministry asked growers in Fukushima prefecture to refrain from harvesting mushrooms off raw wood left outside, public broadcaster NHK said yesterday.

Japan is under pressure to enhance safety inspection of foods, as it has no centralized system for detecting radiation contamination. Authorities in Fukushima and neighboring prefectures are conducting spot checks on products in cooperation with local farmers.

Half of Japan’s rice crop is grown within the radius of possible contamination from the nuclear plant damaged in the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, and farmers are awaiting the results of tests before harvesting begins this month. Radiation exceeding safety levels has been found in various produce, tea, milk, fish and beef sourced as far as 360km from the nuclear plant.

“By strengthening inspection on rice, we want to make sure only safe produce are around in the market,” Japnese Agriculture Minister Michihiko Kano said at a press conference on Friday.

The EU plans to strengthen radiation inspection on imported seafood, both from waters near Japan and from farther out in the Pacific, NHK reported yesterday.

Levels of cesium-134 in seawater near the Fukushima plant’s No. 3 reactor rose to levels 30 times the allowed safety standards last month, according to tests performed by Tokyo Electric Power Co, NHK reported at the time.

The forestry agency urged Fukushima prefecture to prevent shipments of any wood or charcoal that has been stored outdoors since the nuclear crisis, the Yomiuri newspaper said yesterday. Jiji Press reported that the farm ministry ordered the local authorities to conduct tests on trees used for mushroom growing.

Tochigi Prefecture, which borders Fukushima on the south, has begun collecting rice samples for testing, according to a report yesterday on the Web site of the Sankei newspaper.

Last month, hay contaminated with as much as 690,000 becquerels a kilogram, compared with a government safety standard of 300 becquerels, was found to have been fed to cattle. Beef with unsafe levels of the radioactive element was detected in four prefectures, the health ministry said on July 23.

Prolonged exposure to radiation in the air, ground and food can cause leukemia and other cancers, according to the London-based World Nuclear Association.

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