Wednesday 7 December 2011

Baby Milk

I was intending cutting down on these posts and getting some early nights but the Fukushima saga takes so many twists and turns. The latest is contaminated baby milk. Meiji is to recall 400,000 cans of powdered baby milk which have been found to contain a maximum of 30 bequerels/kg of caesium (official limit 200 bq/kg ). As usual an expert was wheeled out to say that since the milk is diluted the dose for infants would be only 2 to 3 bq/kg and nothing to worry about but as you can imagine parents are frantic.

Worryingly, it was discovered not by Meiji or any officials but by a citizen's group in Nihonmatsu who pressed the company for details. According to our local paper, the Fukushima Minpo, the government carried out 25 tests of baby milk, including Meiji, in July and August and found no irregularity (nothing above 5 bq.) So this is another case of contamination slipping through the net.

Meiji reports that the milk was made from dried milk from Hokkaido and Australia. This was diluted with water which had been tested and was clear. The theory is that it was hot air (air from outside) used to dry the milk and turn it back into powder which caused the contamination. The milk was made between 14 and 20 March and the factory is in Saitama, 180 km from Fukushima!

The story illustrates several things we knew already. First, that in those first few weeks there was a lot of radiation around over a wide area, not just here in Fukushima. Secondly, random tests for food are not good enough. Everything should be tested and food should be labelled. If that's impractical for everything surely it should be done for baby milk and baby food at least. Professor Takeda (and others) has been calling for testing and labelling of baby milk since June. Why wasn't it done? Why are the milk companies only now stepping up their tests? Third, people probably are over-reacting and a bit of caesium is not going to kill you but again announcements that 'levels pose no immediate danger to human health' (tadachi ni jintai ni eikyo ga deru suchi de wa nai  直ちに人体に影響が出る数値ではない)don't exactly inspire confidence. Especially when the government is in the process of recategorising food and setting new lower levels with, at last, a separate category for baby milk and infant food.

Here's a link to the story on Japan Today, an online newspaper and discussion forum in English. You might find the comments after the story from residents here in Japan interesting/amusing:

And another story today which is almost comical. Trainloads of ash from incinerators which  had been transported to Aomori right in the north have been returned to Tokyo and environs as the locals won't have it dumped in their backyard. Radioactive rubbish being transported from pillar to post with nowhere to go. The problems are so huge you have to laugh.


  1. Japan Probe has an interesting discussion on this subject: “Radioactive” Baby Formula Recalled: Contained Less Radiation Than A Banana.

  2. Thank you for this and for introducing me to Japan Probe. I shall certainly follow this site from now on. There is an interesting discussion on bananas and the similarities between potassium-40 and caesium. The editor James seems to be objective and tireless in his efforts to allay irrational fear of radiation .