Japanese Farm Products: A Decade Since Fukushima
After March 11, 2011, when the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami caused major damage to Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, there was widespread concern over the possibility that radioactive contamination would enter the global food chain. Even ten years after the disaster, many still harbor concerns about the safety of farm products imported from Japan. But how worried should we be?
In April of this year (2021) the FDA updated its report on the impact of the event on the safety of imported Japanese foods. The analysis does much to allay concerns. While the agency continues to monitor U.S. imports of both Japanese farm products and seafood, it reports no detectable contamination from inspected samples, and downplays concerns that future (plant) clean-up efforts might pose additional risk. ¹
Meanwhile, Japan has its own parameters for protecting its population from exposure to radiation in food, and the allowable limits are quite a bit stricter than those of the U.S. or EU.
For instance, after the Chernobyl nuclear accident (April, 1986) the U.S. and E.U. set allowable levels of radioactive cesium in foodstuffs at 1,200 and 1250 becquerels, respectively. In Japan, the level is set at just 50 becquerels. For drinking water or milk, both the U.S. and E.U. maintain similar limits, while the EU strengthens its requirement for baby food to under 400 Bq (the U.S. is 1200 Bq for the same.) Here again Japan is much more stringent in its maximum limits, allowing 50Bq, 50Bq and 10Bq or less for water, milk and baby food, respectively. ²
Although radioactive contaminants did escape into the air immediately after the initial accident, the impact was short-lived. The ongoing leakage of nuclear fuel from the site has had a much greater impact on the adjacent groundwater and coastal ocean, where to this day fishing is prohibited. A large exclusion zone is maintained on lands to the South, West and North of the site, with no farming or dwelling of any kind allowed.
The hard lessons of the Fukushima nuclear plant accident will never be forgotten by the Japanese people. Meanwhile, the great farming tradition of this island nation remains in good health.