Food contamination fears spread beyond Japan’s borders
Concern over food contaminated by radiation from areas surrounding the troubled nuclear plant in Fukushima spread beyond Japan’s borders Monday morning with world health officials warning of the potential dangers posed by the tainted food and one Japanese restaurant in Taiwan serving up radiation gauges alongside its meals.
World Health Organization officials told reporters Monday that Japan should act quickly to ban food sales from areas around the damaged nuclear plant, saying radiation in food is more dangerous than radioactive particles in the air because of accumulation in the human body.
“Walking outside for a day and eating food repeatedly are two different things. This is why they’re going to have to take some decisions quickly in Japan to shut down and stop food being used completely from zones which they feel might be affected,” WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said, according to the Associated Press.
In a Q&A on its website, the organization advised that consuming food tainted with radioactive material, while indistinguishable to the naked eye, could lead to an increased likelihood of certain cancers. People living near the plant who may have consumed produce or animal products with radiation should seek medical attention, the organization said.
Japanese officials said over the weekend that higher-than-normal levels of radiation had been detected in milk, spinach and some water supplies from regions surrounding the nuclear plant damaged by the earthquake and tsunami. Officials have banned the sale of some food items at risk of contamination and advised residents of a village northeast of the plant not to drink tap water.
The spreading alarm has led to government officials and others in neighboring nations to increase scrutiny of produce coming from Japan.
Officials in China, South Korea and the Philippines have ordered the screening of imports from Japan for radiation contamination, according to news reports. China imported $593 million worth of agricultural products from Japan last year, according to the Chinese Xinhua News Agency.
One upscale Japanese restaurant in Taiwan is not taking any risks. An eatery called Peony in Taipei’s business and financial district is offering a radiation gauge to its diners, Reuters reported.
“I can give my customers a promise: If you eat at Peony I guarantee that everything you get will be the safest and the best,” manager Catherine Yang told Reuters.
In Japan, chief Cabinet spokesman Yukio Edano asked the public not to overreact to reports of food contamination, saying: “Even if you eat contaminated vegetables several times, it will not harm your health at all,” Kyodo News Agency reported.
Edano said Tokyo Electric Power Co., which owns the Fukushima plant, would compensate farmers who are affected by the ban in food sales, according to Kyodo.