29 Mars 2013
March 29, 2013
The prices of vegetables produced in Fukushima Prefecture at Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale markets have collapsed in fiscal 2012, two years after the outbreak of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, a Mainichi Shimbun investigation shows.
The Japanese government on April 1, 2012 introduced stringent food safety regulations, setting a radioactive cesium limit of 100 becquerels per kilogram. Despite the new regulations, Fukushima vegetables have taken the brunt of radiation rumors, prices declining even further than they did in fiscal 2011, the first year of the nuclear crisis.
The Mainichi tracked price increase and decrease rates (annual transactions divided by total quantity) of vegetables at the Tokyo wholesale markets by classifying vegetables in four categories -- nationwide, eastern Japan, western Japan and Fukushima -- against the base figures of fiscal 2009.
In fiscal 2011, the prices of vegetables in the first three categories jumped around 4 percent over fiscal 2009, but those of Fukushima vegetables dropped 5 percent. In fiscal 2012, the prices of vegetables in the nationwide category dipped 0.2 percent from fiscal 2009 but the prices of vegetables from Fukushima Prefecture plunged 18.7 percent.
According to 2010 Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry statistics and other sources, over 20 percent of all vegetables shipped from Fukushima Prefecture were traded at the Tokyo wholesale markets.
A vegetable dealer in Tokyo says, ''There are no takers (for Fukushima vegetables) even now. Some supermarkets in western Japan don't accept them at all and there are no deals.'' The dealer criticizes the central government for setting provisional radiation limits even though the effects from radioactive materials are not understood, spreading distrust among consumers. He also says the public does not have any faith in the new regulations.
The government initially set a radioactive cesium limit of 500 becquerels per kilogram shortly after the March 11, 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami triggered the Fukushima nuclear crisis, drawing fire from the public for setting the limit too high. The government later said the new and tougher regulations would bring harmful radiation rumors under control and protect both producers and consumers.
According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, there were 1,204 cases of food products with radiation levels exceeding the original limit between the March 2011 disasters and the end of March 2012. The ministry logged 2,198 cases of food products exceeding the new limit of 100 becquerels per kilogram between April 2012 and the end of February this year, though many of the cases concerned mushrooms and wild animals.
Kiyokazu Ujiie, assistant professor of agricultural economics at the University of Tsukuba, says the price collapse involving Fukushima vegetables is occurring because consumers are reluctant to buy them and they're diverted to the restaurant and food industries. Consumers still worry about radioactive materials in any quantity and it is not enough to make a perfunctory explanation about the safety of vegetables below the national radiation level. The central government, local governments and producers should fully explain to consumers that vegetable screening on a massive scale have not detected radiation.