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Don't overdo it

April 21, 2012


Farm ministry asks food industries to abide by gov't-imposed allowable radiation limits



The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has sent a notification to 270 organizations related to the supermarket, restaurant and other food-related industries, calling for them to abide by government-imposed allowable limits for radiation in their products.

There are cases of food-related and other industries setting their own standards that are even tougher than the government-imposed limits, and therefore the agriculture ministry said, "The national standards fully ensure safety. Different standards create confusion."

With respect to radioactive cesium in food items, the government set new allowable limits in April at 100 becquerels per kilogram of regular food and 50 becquerels per kilogram of milk and baby food. Suggesting that the government-imposed limits are strict by international standards, the agriculture ministry called for food-related industries to apply the government-imposed standards even to voluntary checks on their food products for radiation in a bid to avoid confusion that could be caused by excessive restrictions.

Stressing the need for scientifically reliable analysis even for voluntary inspections, the agriculture ministry has been advising food-related companies to use organizations that are registered with the ministry to conduct independent inspections of their food products.

The agriculture ministry has come under criticism and complaints from food-related industries for sending the notification. The Seikatsu Club Consumers' Co-operative Union, which sells and delivers food products to its members across the country, has been inspecting almost all products it handles for radiation, and it set its own standards that are stricter than the national standards on April 1. Hiroshi Tsuchida, in charge of product quality control at the co-operative union, said, "It is the consumers' right to select safer food, and the notification is too demanding. The national standards are not considered reassuring in the first place, and therefore if they are forced upon us, the government will lose all the more confidence."

Yukiguni Maitake Co., a major manufacturer and seller of mushrooms in Niigata Prefecture, set its own allowable radiation limit at 40 becquerels per kilogram of mushrooms in November last year and lowered it to 20 becquerels this March. The company said it has not confirmed the receipt of the notification from the agriculture ministry. But it said it would continue to use its own standard.

"We understand the importance of protecting producers, but our company has received requests from consumers to lower our standard. We have a responsibility to meet the needs of consumers," an official with the company said.

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