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Saturday, April 9, 2011
New food contamination rules
With fears, sometimes unfounded, mounting that food and water might be contaminated by radiation, the government has established a new rule governing bans on contaminated agricultural products.
Until now, a shipping ban was applied to an entire prefecture if agricultural products were found to be contaminated with radiation at levels above legal limits in any part of the prefecture. Under the new rule, designed to reduce the infliction of financial damage on farmers whose products are not contaminated, shipping bans will apply only to municipalities where the contaminated agricultural products originated and bans will be lifted when no contamination is detected for three consecutive weeks.
As the rice-planting season nears, the government should also issue guidelines on areas where rice can be safely planted to avoid unnecessary troubles and expenditures.
The government has also decided to restrict the drinking of city water only if the average concentration of radioactive substances for three consecutive days is above the legal limit. The restriction will be lifted when the three-day average is below the limit and on a declining trend.
It is important to prevent panic among consumers, which could lead them to stop buying products whose concentration of radioactive substances falls within legal limits. The authorities should thoroughly vet agricultural products for radiation contamination and make the data public in a timely manner so consumers can make proper judgments.
The same measure should be applied to fishery products. The Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant contain some 60,000 tons of highly radioactive water and until Wednesday some of it was leaking into the sea. In addition, on April 4, Tepco started releasing 10,000 tons of low-level radioactive water into the sea. Radioactive iodine and cesium have been detected in small fish caught off Ibaraki Prefecture recently, and sales are plummeting even for fish caught in unaffected waters.
Ultimately the situation will not improve until internal cooling functions are restored in the stricken reactors and they cease emitting radioactive substances into the environment. The government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. must keep striving to achieve this goal.