The issue of whether food supplies are contaminated with radiation has become more prominent since the global distribution of radioactive fallout from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster which began in March, 2011. Fukushima is still releasing radioactivity to the Pacific Ocean. In reality, food contamination has  been a worldwide concern since radioactive fallout from atomic bomb testing in the middle of the last century. Additionally, there have been countless releases of radioactive material, both planned and accidental, including the 1986 Chernobyl reactor explosion in Ukraine. It is imperative that these releases be viewed as a total, rather than as discrete events, because the long-term impact on our health could be cumulatively detrimental. Questions arise not only about whether food is contaminated, and how to measure this, but the levels at which radioactively contaminated food might be made available for consumption, and how international standards of radiation protection allow for more man-made radiation in food in certain countries and not others.



Japan food exports to Taiwan contain cesium

In the wake of the continuing Fukushima catastrophe, countries such as Korea and China are concerned that contaminated food is being exported from Japan. In a recent report by, data from Taiwan showing food imports (primarily green tea) from Japan have contained radioactive cesium levels below Taiwan’s limit of 370 Bq/kg, but above Japan’s limit of 100 Bq/kg. The monitoring program in Taiwan is spot-checking these imports, so this contaminated tea was discovered in only a fraction of food coming from Japan, meaning additionally contaminated food could have been missed. In addition, Taiwan had already banned food from areas in Japan considered most contaminated, so this food was imported from areas in Japan considered “safe”. Taiwan tested teas that were harvested after the Fukushima catastrophe began. However, in 2011 and 2012, the US Food Drug Administration only tested tea varieties that would have been harvested in 2010, thereby having escaped contamination, making the FDA tea tests completely meaningless.

This unsettling discovery demonstrates that people in other countries are being sold food that is contaminated above Japan’s allowable limit, but below that of the receiving country—a concern that has been expressed time-and-again by Fukushima Fallout Awareness Network (FFAN) of which Beyond Nuclear is a coalition partner.  While the allowable limit of radioactive cesium in Japan is 100 Bq/kg, in Taiwan it is 370 Bq/kg, and in the U.S. it is 1200 Bq/kg with no real explanation as to why, say, a pregnant woman in the U.S. should be allowed to ingest 12 times the radioactive poison of a pregnant woman in Japan. These inconsistent limits may not make biological sense, but they do make sense when taken in context of this statement by ICRP (International Commission on Radiological Protection--the body which generates statements governments rely on to set radiation exposure standards.) “There may be a situation where a sustainable agricultural economy is not possible without placing contaminated food on the market.  As such foods will be subject to market forces, this will necessitate an effective communication strategy to overcome the negative reactions from consumers outside the affected areas.” This is the price of the continued use and catastrophic meltdowns of nuclear power.

Japan has filed a complaint with the WTO over Korean Fukushima-related import bans and additional testing requirements, demonstrating that countries trying to protect themselves from contaminated food could be facing international adjudication through the WTO. Japan told the WTO in October 2014 “more than 99 percent of food items were below standard limits, and strict measures prevented the sale or export of any food exceeding those limits.” But since measurement of food is so spotty, both from the importer and exporter, a statement like this is not only meaningless, but deceptive. Further, if every country’s contamination limits are different, in reality, there are no standard limits, no matter what the WTO or Japan contends.

If the Trans-Pacific Partnership is approved, these penalties could get a lot worse (link to Part 1 of a 5 part FFAN series on the TPP and contaminated food from Japan) and could include taxpayer compensation for corporate lost revenue due to such disputes.

But the radioisotope cesium isn't the only concern. There is also strontium. Strontium-90 is much more difficult to measure than cesium-137. To avoid this inconvenience, strontium is often assumed or calculated to be in a ratio with cesium-137 such that a certain amount of measurable cesium would have a known accompanying smaller amount of strontium-90. Originally for contamination in Japan, strontium content was thought to be 10% of whatever the cesium-137 content was. However, after testing food in Japan, researchers have discovered that the initial ratio of strontium to cesium-137 is more than two times the amount of cesium-137.  More importantly, it also means that the various country limits set for radioactive cesium in food may no longer protect from the increased health impact of the strontium-90 that may be lurking in imports from Japan.


More than one in three wild boar in Germany are too radioactive to eat

"Twenty-eight years after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, its effects are still being felt as far away as Germany -- in the form of radioactive wild boars.

Wild boars still roam the forests of Germany, where they are hunted for their meat, which is sold as a delicacy.

But in recent tests by the state government of Saxony, more than one in three boars were found to give off such high levels of radiation that they are unfit for human consumption...

"Even though Saxony lies some 700 miles from Chernobyl, wind and rain carried the radioactivity across western Europe, and soil contamination was found even further away, in France." Hunters who kill wild boar have had to have the meat tested for radioactivity since 2012.  The Telegraph

The limit of radioactive cesium allowed in Germany is 600 Bq/kg of food. For children, it is 300 JBq/kg. But IPPNW issued a report in September 2011, saying that the range of contamination should be orders of magnitude less: 4-8 Bq/kg in order to offer more protection to children.


Call your congressperson: Becquerel Awareness Day (B.A.D.) April 10


This Thursday, April 10, 2014, tell your congressperson that FDA must lower the amount of radiation allowed in our food and institute more robust food testing. Why?

The US limit for man-made radioactive cesium is the highest in the world: twelve times higher than Japan's. While FDA does test, they are not doing all that they can to ensure protection of the public, especially children, from man-made radiation. The ongoing nuclear catastrophe at Fukushima in Japan awakened concern about contamination in the US food supply, not just from Fukushima radiation, but from other sources as well. RSVP and invite others to the call in day.

To find your congresspeople, go here. Or call the Capitol Switchboard (202) 224-3121 and ask for them by name. Updates and talking points. See our press release. More



FDA Adds Alaska Salmon Testing To Radiation Monitoring Program

"Alaska fish are being tested for radiation contamination from Japan’s leaking Fukushima Nuclear energy plant...

Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation State Director of Environmental Health Elaine Busse Floyd says samples of Alaska fish have been submitted to a Federal Food and Drug Administration testing program...

Floyd says each Alaska fish sample, is made up of multiple flesh samples from various species including halibut, pollock, sable fish and salmon, including Copper River and Bristol Bay stocks. The samples were sent to an F.D.A. testing lab in Massachusetts in March, the first time Alaska fish has been submitted for testing.

The action follows public concern that prompted the Fairbanks City Council and North Star Borough Assembly to pass resolutions last month urging the state and federal governments to investigate Fukushima radiation in Alaska. Assembly resolution sponsor John Davies pointed to history in advocating for more information." Alaska Public Media

After disasters like Chernobyl and Fukushima, and subsequent to above-ground atomic bomb testing, the instinct of government is to downplay contamination concerns and Fukushima has been no different, the article relates. The article also reports 20 samples of fish total will be tested by the FDA in their annual monitoring program.

Beyond Nuclear's take: while it is good that Alaska officials are responding to public concern in a positive, non-dismissive way, 20 samples of fish will not be enough to ensure a robust picture of radiological contamination in food. It is a good, symbolic start, but more widespread testing should be instituted and continued for many years as contamination can shift and bioaccumulate.

One study, modeling ocean currents, contends that six to 10 years after the Fukushima disaster began, radiation levels will be higher off the Western coast of the US than off the coast of Japan. Of course this study had assumed a time certain for cessation of radiation leakage from the ruined facility, a circumstance sadly still out of reach.


Blueberry spread, labeled ORGANIC, contaminated with man-made radiation

English summary from EXSKF: "Japanese weekly magazine Shukan Asahi did its own checking on imported blueberry spread being sold in Tokyo and alerted the health authorities, who were reluctant to do anything at first.

Main points from from Shukan Asahi (10/23/2013) article:

  • "Fior di frutta organic fruits spread" blueberry imported from Italy

  • Place of origin: Bulgaria

  • 164Bq/kg of cesium-137 by test commissioned by Shukan Asahi

  • 140Bq/kg of cesium-137 by test by the municipal (Tokyo) health authorities

  • Shibuya-ku ordered the importer MIE PROJECT on October 18 to recall 5,184 bottles of blueberry spread with the best before date of October 17, 2015.

  • Ministry of Health and Welfare initially refused to do anything based on "private" (as opposed to "official" - i.e. by the government) test results.

  • The public health centers involved didn't want to move either on just "an article that appeared in a magazine".

  • Less than 10 percent of all imported food is tested; it is possible that people are eating contaminated food without knowing."

This spread is also imported into the United States and is carried where organic foods are carried. While the contamination level is high, and children in the US are often fed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, this amuont of contamination is well within the US FDA's allowed cesium contamination level of 1200 Bq/kg. This is why we need testing of our food in the US now.