Tuesday 10 April 2012

Food 2

Hi again,
After their shambolic efforts last year to show that the rice harvest was safe, the authorities seem to have got their act together for the coming season.  Last year, in an effort to protect farmers' livelihoods and pretend that all was well, random sampling was carried out and the governor proclaimed that all Fukushima rice was safe. But he soon had egg on his face. The sampling was grossly inadequate (only two samples from each area) and rice well over the then safety standard of 500 bq/kg was found in 'hotspots'. The farmers couldn't sell their rice and only recently has the government said it will buy it up.

The safety standard for general foods has been tightened from 500 bq/kg to 100 bq/kg. So this is the new plan. Rice  that had less that 100 bq/kg last season (and that's 93% of the acreage) is to be sampled every hectare in the central and northern parts of the prefecture and every two hectares in the south and in the Aizu area. Apparently the average farm is one hectare (2.5 acres) so that means virtually every farm will be tested. Where levels of over 50 bq/kg are detected, more tests on smaller lots will be carried out or if the rice has been dried out in the fields, every bag will be tested. Areas which last year measured over 100 bq/kg are to have every bag of rice tested. Sorry to go on about rice but it's important as people here eat such a lot of it.

At last everyone is realising that 'ganbaru' - showing true grit and perseverance - is not going to do it. People want data. The prefecture's Agricultural Research Centre in Koriyama has 10 germanium detectors (very expensive) working flat out. As well as rice, they're testing vegetables (random tests every 5 hectares) and milk (every cow). York Benimaru, big Koriyama-based supermarket chain,  announced new testing and labelling as of 1st April. Up to now it's been gung-ho and very pro-Fukushima. (In the early days their supermarkets were the venue for tomato-munching PR stunts.) It's still pro-Fukushima but has now introduced its own voluntary checks in addition to those done by producers and the authorities. Aeon supermarket (biggest national chain) has been doing its own checks for a while.

The new standards are very strict, even by international standards, and in reality probably not necessary. But such is the allergy here to any radiation in food that even the farmers seem to agree that it's the only way to restore consumer confidence. (The phrase used is fuhyo higai o fusshoku suru 風評被害を払拭する). It's going to be a long slog and one hopes that results are seen soon. You have to admire the way people press on regardless.
Bye for now

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