Are worries over meat warranted?

Questions and Answers about meat safety From Japan online by By MINORU MATSUTANI

About 1,500 cows that were fed hay containing radioactive cesium in excess of the government limit were found to have been shipped from Fukushima and other prefectures to all of Japan except Okinawa, as of Thursday.

The cows ate hay that was left outside after the hydrogen explosions at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant’s reactors in mid-March.

Some consumers have already eaten meat from the cows, raising questions about whether it remains safe to eat beef, or even chicken and pork.

Here are some questions and answers from the page.

How is beef checked?

The health ministry has instructed 14 prefectures in eastern Japan to randomly check meat, including beef, chicken, pork, milk and eggs, said Tomohiro Hagiya, an official at the ministry’s Inspection and Safety Division.

According to the instruction, meat processing factories in the 14 prefectures check meat with a germanium semiconductor detector, a machine that costs millions of yen and weighs more than 1 ton.

The machine takes a few hours to detect radioactive cesium and iodine, and can also check milk and eggs.

Even though cesium-tainted beef was distributed nationwide, the ministry “currently has no plan” to instruct more prefectures to check food because “the idea is to check food where it is produced,” Hagiya said, adding that the agriculture ministry is in charge of live animals and is supposed to check them thoroughly.

Are domestic chicken and pork safe?

They are probably safer than domestic beef, but also need to be thoroughly monitored.

Domestic chickens and pigs are mainly fed imported grains that are usually packaged, as opposed to hay that is sometimes left uncovered outdoors, the agriculture ministry’s Nobuto said.

However, as some farmers also feed the animals hay and other greens that may have been left outside, the ministry will extend the alert to chicken and pig farmers as well, he added.

Are milk and dairy products safe?

Milk products are probably safer than meat because the milk production process makes it easy to check milk before it is distributed, Otake from the agriculture ministry’s Milk and Diary Products Division said.

Milk is checked by prefectures and municipalities at so-called cooler stations, where farmers collect raw milk.

Every prefecture has several cooler stations, which are run by local agricultural cooperatives and distribute raw milk to milk producing companies such as Megmilk Snowbrand Co.

“Milk from different prefectures can be mixed in the same package. But contaminated milk being distributed is impossible,” Otake said.

According to the agriculture ministry, milk with a radiation level higher than the maximum allowable level has always been detected before being distributed to the market.

A small number of dairy farmers sell milk directly to customers without taking it to cooler stations, and the agriculture ministry has instructed them not to use hay that was left outside as feed, Otake said.

Why is food not being checked for other radioactive materials such as uranium, plutonium and strontium?

Because the amount of these substances in the soil and atmosphere is far smaller than radioactive iodine and cesium, according to Hirotaka Oku, an official at the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry.

When the ministry checked soil in areas between 20 and 30 km of the Fukushima No. 1 complex in April, no radioactive uranium or plutonium from the plant was found, he said.

However, minute amounts of radioactive strontium measuring 89 becquerels per kg were detected in June in soil in places including the city of Fukushima, about 60 km from the crippled nuclear plant. In the same survey, 1,500 becquerels per kg of radioactive strontium were found in soil at Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, 24 km from the plant.

The health and welfare ministry’s Hagiya said the ministry will check strontium, uranium and plutonium in food at a later date.

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