Consumer mistrust in Japan as rice is found with radioactive cesium

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Rice, Japan

Consumer mistrust in Japan as rice is found with radioactive cesium
Independent Japanese inspectors have found the first case of radioactive contamination in a sample of rice since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant accident five months ago, on March 11.

Information released by the Ibariki local government said that contaminated rice has been found in the city of Hokato, 100 miles south of the nuclear plant in the Ibariki Prefecture. The level of contamination found is considered safe for consumption as it is below the government’s implemented safety levels for rice (500 becquerels per kilogram). The rice contained approximately one tenth of the regulatory limit, 52 becquerels of radioactive cesium from a kilogram of brown rice collected on August 16 was found. No cesium was detected from two other samples taken that day from different locations.

Analyst Kazunobu Yoshikawa, custom research division at GFK Custom Research Japan, said the find has caused mistrust in consumers.

He said: “Some people do not purchase foods from or near the Fukushima and Tohoku area, especially people who have small children.”

A senior consultant, who asked not to be named, at another Japanese market research firm agreed.

He said: “How seriously people mistrust the market depends on the person. However I think most people are anxious about food contamination.”

He predicted that sales of the rice harvest this year near the nuclear plant area will decline. He said that distributers have also been considering examining the quantity of contamination in rice to enable them to disclose this information to consumers.

Eddie Satoh, Assistant Director, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in Japan said that it is a serious issue, affecting both farmers and consumers. Local governments are working hard he said, with 17 provisional governments testing rice in their provinces.

He said: “Areas very close to Fukushima have been hugely damaged with very high levels of radiation and people are prohibited to enter these areas. The rice planting restricted area set by Government is approximately 8,500 hectares. In this area, there used to be 6,800 rice farmers.”

He said that whilst many have been impacted, the affected area is quite limited. He said that the government is looking to the future and will continue checking radioactive concentration levels to ensure food safety of rice. The government will start plans on how to rebuild the farmers’ community and begin ideas on how to reduce the levels of contamination in the land he said.

Japan is self-sufficient in rice, operating a stringent rice trade policy, with high tariffs of 341 yen ($4.2) per kilogram on imported rice. It consumes 8.1m tons of rice a year, according to the U.S Department of Agriculture, and will produce 7.7m tons in the 2010-2011 marketing year according to USDA forecasts. Japan’s production levels will already be overstretched in the coming marketing year and Yoshikawa said that any contamination threats to self-sufficiency and consumer habits won’t be confirmed in full until October, after the rice harvest.

Scientists from the Fukushima Agricultural Technology Centre are working towards a potential solution for the future of Japanese rice farmers. They are attempting to breed a new strain of rice that is resilient to the lasting effects of the radioactive contamination. By testing over 100 different varieties of rice, the plan is to cross any strains that have a natural resistance to absorbing cesium oil from the soil.

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