by Staff Writers
Fukushima City (AFP) July 20, 2011
Using a special permit, beef rancher Masami Yoshizawa makes a weekly trip inside Japan's nuclear no-go zone around a crippled atomic plant to feed 300 of his cows that still live in the area.
Post-quake life under a nuclear shadow was already tough for Fukushima cattle farmers, but they say a ban on shipments of cows from the prefecture amid Japan's latest food radiation scare could destroy their livelihoods.
"Many cows starved to death in Fukushima after the nuclear accident" as farmers did not return to feed them, said Yoshizawa, responsible for some 1,000 cattle in the region as foreman of M Ranch farming.
"Now it's our turn. Cattle farmers will starve to death," a frustrated Yoshizawa told AFP.
The government on Tuesday banned all cattle shipments from Fukushima prefecture due to escalating fears over radiation-tainted beef in the country's meat distribution chain, four months after the nuclear accident.
Around 650 cattle are thought to have been contaminated with radioactive caesium from hay they were fed before being sent for slaughter -- including some from areas well beyond the 20 kilometre (12 mile) evacuation zone around the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
At some farms officials detected levels of caesium in hay that were about 520 times the government-designated limit, likely due to fallout from the nuclear plant following reactor meltdowns sparked by the March 11 quake-tsunami disaster.
The animals were processed from late March, and some of the meat has been consumed at restaurants and family dinner tables nationwide in a scare that follows contaminated tea, milk and various vegetables.
Under fire for its handling of the quake aftermath, the government has faced accusations of negligence over its failure to establish centralised testing of farm produce, having lifted earlier bans on some items.
Tokyo, at pains to point out that standard servings of the meat pose no immediate health risk, has pledged to compensate farmers for losses.
But consumers have rapidly lost faith in both the product and officials.
"We have been selling Fukushima beef that has passed screening tests, but no one wants to buy it," said an employee at a butchers shop in the prefecture where banners backing Fukushima beef were displayed.
"We don't know what to do," said the employee who declined to be named.
"Fukushima farmers are facing crisis," said Yoshiyuki Genei, a worker at another M Ranch cattle shed in Nihonmatsu, central Fukushima.
"It may take 10 years or longer to fully stabilise the nuclear accident. Cattle farmers cannot hang on for such a long time," he said, referring to the years needed to decommission and decontaminate the plant site.
Fukushima, some 220 kilometres (137 miles) northeast of Tokyo, was a major beef supplier to the capital with some 78,000 cows fed in the prefecture.
Yu Matsukawa, senior director at Fukushima Livestock Association said farmers now faced a grim choice of paying for costly feed or culling their cows.
"Does any farmer intend to harm the health of consumers?" Matsukawa said. "The contamination was not caused by farmers. They are also victims."
Tens of thousands of people remain evacuated from homes, businesses and farms inside the no-go area and beyond, and embattled plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. faces massive compensation costs.
Despite the ban, some Fukushima meat may continue to be sold as ground meat and organs, products not required to carry labels indicating origin.
"I'm trying to buy food from outside Fukushima, but it's difficult to find," said Sumiyo Sakuma, a 39-year-old housewife and mother of a nine-year-old boy and a five-year-old girl.
"I don't want my children to eat food from Fukushima," said Sakuma. "My concern is about any effect on my children."
Experts warn the government should widen restrictions on food shipments from Fukushima, with many studies linking internal radiation exposure to higher future incidences of cancers.
"We should not underestimate the current levels of radiation detected in Fukushima," said Katsuma Yagasaki, an honorary professor of University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa and researcher of radiation effects.
"The government must halt shipments of all foods from Fukushima for now and provide farmers with full compensation in return."
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Japan bans Fukushima beef shipments over radiation
Tokyo (AFP) July 19, 2011
Japan on Tuesday suspended cattle shipments from Fukushima prefecture on fears of radiation-tainted beef in the country's meat distribution chain, four months after a nuclear accident in the region. Tokyo told Fukushima Governor Yuhei Sato to "halt shipments of all cattle in Fukushima to meat-packing factories," until the safety of the meat can be confirmed, chief government spokesman Yukio ... read more
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