Eight months on from the nuclear plant accident at Fukushima Daiichi and Japan’s food sector continues to be rocked, with the Fukushima prefecture most heavily affected.
In August this year, five months after the incident, independent inspectors found the first case of radioactive cesium in a rice sample.
But the latest shipment ban of rice produced in Fukushima this year has now been issued by the director-general of Japan’s Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters, “for the time being.”
Rice is not the only food product that has been contaminated. Vegetables, meat and raw milk produced in the prefecture have also shown positive levels of contamination exceeding regulation limits.
According to Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, 282 vegetables have been contaminated, including spinach, bamboo shoots and broccoli.
There have been 133 cases of fish contamination along with 18 samples of affected raw milk.
Domestic impact and export concerns
Japan, a country renowned for rice self-sufficiency, domestically consumes 8.1m metric tons of rice a year, according to the U.S Department of Agriculture.
Despite contamination concerns, a survey conducted this month by Japanese daily newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun, showed 90% of respondents would buy domestic rice over foreign brand rice.
The survey administered over two days in 250 locations, showed 73% of people stated that they considered domestic rice to be “very safe”.
But others paint a different picture.
In August, Kazunobu Yoshikawa, an analyst from GFK Custom Research Japan, told FoodNavigator-Asia that many consumers had stopped purchasing foods from or near the Fukushima area and another senior consultant agreed that “most people are anxious about food contamination”.
Eddie Satoh, assistant director for Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in Japan said contamination is a serious issue affecting both farmers and consumers.
He acknowledged the disaster will continue to impact Japan for some time to come - “…the radioactive contamination will take approximately 30 years to reduce by 50%,” he said.
South Korea’s state-run food safety agency, the Korea Food and Drug Administration (KFDA), has banned rice imports from affected regions in Japan.