Catherine Winter, BURN Reporter
Two years after an earthquake and tsunami triggered a nuclear disaster in Japan, many people still worry about radiation in the soil, the water, and especially the food.
Shortly after the Fukushima Daichi nuclear plant spewed radioactive cesium and iodine into the air, contamination was discovered in a number of food crops, such as mushrooms, spinach and tea, as well as in beef and milk.
The Japanese government has since set up a testing system and insists that the country’s food supply is safe. Japan now has strict limits on the amount of radiation allowed in food – far stricter than those of the U.S. or Europe.
Dr. Schuichiro Hayashi, who deals with food safety for the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, acknowledges that there is an increase in radiation in Japan’s food, but he says it’s so small that it’s within the range you’d see from regional variations in naturally-occurring radiation in food.
Hayashi says the level of contamination in the food supply is so low that you could eat the food in Japan every day and suffer no health effects.
But some people don’t trust the government’s word. Some worry that even with testing, radioactive food may slip through and be sold to the public. And some are not persuaded by the argument that a little additional radiation won’t hurt you.
The science on this point is not clear. A new report from the World Health Organization says that people outside the most contaminated areas are probably not at risk for measurable health effects from radiation in the air, food, or water.
But the report acknowledges the limits of the research it relies on. Most studies of the health effects of radiation focus on people who’ve gotten much higher doses: atomic bomb survivors and people who received medical radiation treatments. The long-term effects of low-level radiation are not as well understood.