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Beef Contaminated With Cesium Sold at Market - July 13, 2011

Beef from cows from Fukushima Prefecture contaminated with radioactive cesium was sold to restaurants and shoppers in at least five prefectures, according to Tokyo metropolitan government officials.

The officials said July 11 that contaminated beef from six cows raised at a ranch in Minami-Soma was sold in Hokkaido, Chiba, Aichi, Tokushima and Kochi prefectures.

The rancher on July 10 admitted ignoring a prefectural order not to use potentially contaminated feed stored outdoors after explosions at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, Fukushima prefectural officials said.

Wholesalers in Tokyo sold the beef to dealers in Tokyo as well as Kanagawa, Shizuoka, Osaka and Ehime prefectures before the meat reached those prefectures, the Tokyo officials said.

The revelations come after Tokyo officials discovered radioactive cesium at levels up to 3,200 becquerels per kilogram, or 6.4 times the national safety limit of 500 becquerels per kilogram, in meat from 11 cows from the same ranch earlier this month. However, beef from the cows did not make it to market.

The beef that did make it to market and consumers' tables was from six cows shipped before the cesium contamination was discovered.

The officials said they tested meat from three of the six slaughtered cows, finding radioactive cesium at levels higher than the national safety standard.

The officials released ID numbers for the cattle so consumers can check to see if they have any of the beef at home. Cattle ID numbers are listed on all packages sold.

The 11 cows were contaminated after being fed rice straw stored outdoors even after hydrogen explosions at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant released radioactive materials into the atmosphere, the Fukushima prefectural government said July 11.

The six cattle ate the same feed, the officials said.

Fukushima officials said radioactive cesium about 60 times national safety standards for rice straw was detected at the ranch.

The farmer fed the cows the rice straw despite a prefectural instruction on March 25 to use paddy straw and other feed cut before the nuclear crisis and stored indoors. But he didn't tell that on June 26 to prefectural officials who interviewed him about the feed.

The farmer later told officials he gave his cows the rice straw after the nuclear plant accident because he had nothing else.

The ranch is within a zone designated by the government in which residents were instructed to be prepared for further emergencies at the nuclear plant.

Of the six contaminated cows, Tokyo officials detected 3,400 becquerels of radioactive cesium, or nearly seven times the national safety limit, in beef from one cow sold to a dealer in Tokyo's Fuchu city on July 5.

Cesium levels in beef from different cows sold to a meat dealer in Shinjuku Ward on June 30 were 2,200 becquerels.

According to the Shizuoka municipal health center, a meat processor purchased 27.8 kilograms of chuck on June 10. The beef was sold to a meat retailer and a restaurant in Shizuoka Prefecture, with 14.8 kilograms purchased by consumers.

A test found 1,998 becquerels of radioactive cesium in the processed beef.

In Kanagawa Prefecture, the contaminated meat changed hands at traders and stores in Yokohama, Sagamihara and Kawasaki cities.

Beef equivalent of two cows was shipped to vendors in Osaka Prefecture from Tokyo, but the meat did not reach market.

According to Tokushima prefectural government officials, about 8.8 kilograms of contaminated beef was circulated in Tokushima Prefecture.

The meat was delivered to a mass retailer in Anan in the prefecture June 8 from a dealer in Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture. The beef, processed into packs 200 to 300 grams each, was sold June 10-12.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare sets safety limits of radioactive cesium at 500 becquerels per 1 kilogram of meat.

The figure is based on a theory that total annual exposure to cesium from consumption of all food products should not surpass 5 millisieverts.

If a person ate 200 grams of meat contaminated with 3,400 becquerels of cesium daily for a year, he or she would be exposed to 3.9 millisieverts of radiation.

But experts say that people could be exposed to radioactivity through other foods even though each serving is not neccesarily threatening in itself.

The experts also said that even low-level radiation exposure could cause health problems.

Meanwhile, Fukushima prefectural government officials acknowledged that their checks could not prevent contaminated beef from reaching market 100 percent of the time.

The officials examined body-level surface radiation of all cattle before the animals were shipped from Minami-Soma and other areas where radiation exposure was relatively high.

But the officials could not determine if the cows suffered internal radiation exposure through contaminated feed because they were dependent on accurate statements by breeders during interviews.

In addition, not all sections of the cow were tested for contamination at slaughterhouses.

The prefectural government will change procedures by also inspecting livestock barns and feeds storage sites for cattle to be shipped from potentially high radiation zones.

Prefectural officials said they will examine all the meat of cattle shipped from these zones and slaughtered in the prefecture.

They also urged other prefectures to carry out contamination tests for cattle shipped from high-risk areas in Fukushima Prefecture.

The health ministry, however, said that it would be difficult for other prefectures to follow Fukushima Prefecture's advice due to limited resources, including testing equipment.

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