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Saturday, March 31, 2012

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Clean and green: Vegetables from Fukushima Prefecture that have cleared radiation tests are sold at an outlet of mail-order firm Cataloguehouse Ltd. in Tokyo. YOSHIAKI MIURA

Officials gird for more food testing

Prefectures in radiation path seek to ease consumer fears


Staff writer

With much stricter regulations on radioactive cesium in food about to take effect, authorities in the Tohoku and Kanto regions said Friday they are ready to increase the number of food samplings to win the trust of consumers.

Starting Sunday, the ceiling on radioactive cesium in food will be lowered from the current 500 becquerels per kilogram to 100. To eliminate the chance of food with excessive radioactive cesium reaching store shelves, prefectures are beefing up their testing systems by purchasing screening equipment and in some cases increasing inspectors to check more food samples.

Tochigi Prefecture will double or even triple the number of samples tested starting next month, according to official Hiroyuki Sugimoto.

The prefecture will increase the number of part-time assistant inspectors from the current six to 10 starting Sunday, he said.

Also, Tochigi this month purchased a germanium semiconductor detector, which can measure radioactive isotopes in food, and plans to buy more by the end of summer before the fall rice harvest, he said.

"We will be certainly busier (than now). . . . But it is our job to check produce more thoroughly and disclose the results to consumers," Sugimoto said.

"Recently, barely any radioactive cesium was found in produce grown in Tochigi, except for mushrooms and fish. But the important thing is to continue testing and let consumers know no radioactive cesium was found."

Since the outbreak of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, Tochigi has conducted radiation tests on about 1,300 samples, he said.

Meanwhile Saitama plans to boost radiation checks on tea products from the prefecture, as some products from the Sayama district last year exceeded the government limit for radioactive cesium. The prefecture now plans to test samples from every tea factory within its borders, official Hideo Negishi said.

Saitama will also start checking food products processed in the prefecture, as well as fish shipped from the Tohoku region to retailers in Saitama, Negishi said.

Fukushima, however, has no plans to boost food checks except for buying a few more testing devices, because it has already been conducting "thorough tests" by checking about 200 food products a day, a prefectural official said.

Hisa Anan, director general of the National Liaison of Consumer Organization, said the Tokyo-based consumers' group believes the chance that contaminated produce will hit store shelves is slim, given the recent results of food tests by local officials as well as citizens' groups and supermarkets.

"We now know more about where hot spots are. So as long as they carefully conduct tests on produce from those areas, I believe it will be fine," Anan said.

"The important thing for the government is to try to deepen consumers' understanding about the new regulation on food and the meaning of (becquerel) figures for consumers," she said.

"Young mothers are particularly feeling anxious (about contamination of food), so such efforts are needed," she said.

The health ministry said someone would be exposed to less than 1 millisievert of radiation over the course of a year by solely eating the average Japanese meal using food products contaminated with radioactive cesium at the upper end of the new limit.



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