Yesterday, Japan announced its first ever ban on rice shipments produced near the Fukushima nuclear plant since the disastrous earthquake and tsunami back in March. Tests have shown high levels of radioactive elements present in the rice crop from an area outside the exclusion zone around the Fukushima Daiichi plant. The samples used in the most recent tests were harvested in a field about 50-60km from the nuclear plant, and the level of radioactive cesium contained in these samples was measured at 630 becquerels per kilogram, exceeding the maximum safety limit of 500 becquerels.
In response, food safety concerns are rising again in the country, and it does not help that consumers are “already fretting over the safety of domestic product, despite its previous solid safety reputation”. Studies have reported other radiation-contaminated products including spinach, mushrooms, tea, milk, and beef. According to research conducted in eastern Japan in October, 47.3 becquerels per kilogram of cesium were discovered in cod and traces of radiation were also present in a number of other fish types, including tuna. However, this is the first time the government has decided to issue a strict ban on any food product, which could be due to the frequency and amount of rice consumed in the average Japanese household.
Back in the summer, the Japanese market has already witnessed a sharp price increase of rice produced before the nuclear disaster as consumers rushed to stock up in fear of contamination in this year’s harvest. Although prices have since been stabilized, the news of the ban is likely to take another toll on the Japanese food market in general.