Japan Food Imports Being Tested for Radiation

With concerns mounting that the nuclear emergency in Japan may have resulted in widespread radiation contamination of that country’s food supply, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has announced that it will test Japan food imports into this country. However, according to a statement on the agency’s website, at this time there is no risk to the U.S. from <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/Radiation-Exposure-Environmental-Contamination-Dumping-Spill-Lawsuit">radioactive food.

Over the weekend, Japanese officials announced that some radiation had turned up in spinach and milk produced near Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which sustained significant damage from the devastating earthquake and tsunami that pummeled Japan earlier this month. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Japanese government has since ordered the governors of Fukushima, Ibaragi, Tochigi and Gunma prefectures to suspend shipments of spinach and rapeseed after radiation exceeding the regulation limit was detected in some produce. The government also ordered Fukushima prefecture not to sell milk. At the same time, however, the government maintains that eating the radioactive food does not pose a risk to human health.

According to the FDA, due to the heavy damage caused by the earthquake and tsunami to the region, no products are currently being exported to the U.S. from the affected area of Japan. However, the agency said today that it has started testing all food imports from Japan for possible radiation contamination. As pat of its effort, the FDA is tracking data on food from Japan, including where it is grown, harvested and manufactured to monitor potential risk in the future. The agency also said it has “procedures and laboratory techniques for measuring radionuclide levels in food,” and will also check food that may have passed through Japan.

Less than 4 percent of the food imported into the U.S. comes from Japan. According to the FDA, the most common Japanese imports include seafood, snack foods and processed fruits and vegetables.

Peter Caracappa, a clinical professor of nuclear engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, told The Wall Street Journal that health risks from contaminated food “depends on overall consumption rather than the exact dose in any given quantity of the product, and any health consequences would be long-term risks associated with cancer rather than immediate health concerns.”

The risk from one glass of milk is “extremely thin,” Caracappa said, but increases with constant ingestion. Risks might also be increased or lessened depending on where the contamination is found, he said. For example, if the radioactivity being detected is only showing up on the surface of spinach leaves, it could potentially be washed away. However, if it was detected in the plant, it would pose a much greater concern. Finally, Caracappa added that if the food testing positive for radiation Japan were “necessary for survival,” he would eat it, but that food from unaffected regions poses a safer choice.

The Journal noted that after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster that occurred in the Soviet Union in the 1980s, radioactive iodine in contaminated milk was linked to higher rates of thyroid cancer.

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