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Better keep off wild plants

May 5, 2012

Cesium pushing wild plants off menu

Many local governments are calling on producers and harvesters of edible wild plants to refrain from shipping their products after a number of them were found to contain levels of radioactive cesium that exceed state limits.

Some of these plants are now at the height of their picking season, but citizens are also being urged not to gather the plants in certain areas affected by cesium discharged into the environment by the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011.

In Fukushima Prefecture, some local governments have been told by the central government to refrain from shipping five types of edible wild plants whose radiation readings exceeded the state's safety limit of 100 becquerels per kilogram.

The five include royal fern (zenmai in Japanese), ostrich fern (kusasotetsu), Angelica tree sprouts (taranome), butterbur sprouts (fukinoto), and young fronds of koshiabura, a deciduous tree belonging to the ginseng family. Young shoots and immature fronds of these plants are cooked as vegetables and considered a delicacy.

The prefectural government also told the city of Date to refrain from shipping bracken (warabi in Japanese), as the plants harvested there were found to contain 110 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram.

According to the prefectural government, many similar edible wild plants with radioactive cesium content in excess of the new safety limits adopted April 1 have been found, prompting producers and harvesters to suspend their shipments.

Most of these plants were shipped through the end of March, as their radioactive cesium content was less than the previous provisional safety limits of 500 becquerels per kilogram.

In the town of Iino in Fukushima city, where wildly grown taranome shipments have been suspended, local direct sales depots are refraining from selling most edible wild plants for the time being.

In a typical year, local farmers bring edible wild plants to these local stores, the sale of which accounts for nearly half the stores' sales during the Golden Week holiday season.

As few customers are in the market for edible wild plants this year, these stores' sales have fallen 75 to 80 percent compared to levels seen before the accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant.

"Farmers know they won't sell, so they don't bring them [edible wild plants] in. I wonder if our customers will ever come back...There is no prospect for returning to normal now," lamented Toshihiro Ito, 61, manager of the direct sales shop in Iino.

Edible wild plants gathered for private use are not subject to the government's restriction.

The months of May and June are considered high season for gathering these young fronds and shoots.

Although an increasing number of people are expected to go up into the mountains in search of the wild plants, officials of the Fukushima prefectural government said they want people to refrain from doing so.

Wild taranome from Ichikai in southeast Tochigi Prefecture was found to contain 110 becquerels of radioactive cesium, prompting the prefecture to request the town to refrain from shipping the produce.

Elsewhere, in the town of Kami in Miyagi Prefecture, ostrich fern gathered locally was found to contain 310 becquerels of radioactive cesium. In Ibaraki Prefecture, young koshiabura fronds gathered in Hitachi and those from Hitachi-Omiya were found to contain 1,300 and 140 becquerels of radioactive cesium, respectively, prompting the prefectural government to ask the local municipalities to refrain from shipping them.

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