By Martin Fackler
New York Times
Excerpts: Almost a year after a huge earthquake and tsunami caused a triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, Japan is still struggling to protect its food supply from radioactive contamination. The discovery of tainted rice in Onami and a similar case in July involving contaminated beef have left officials scrambling to plug the exposed gaps in the government’s food-screening measures, many of which were hastily introduced after the accident. [Image]
The repeated failures have done more than raise concerns that some Japanese may have been exposed to unsafe levels of radiation in their food, as regrettable as that is. They have also had a corrosive effect on public confidence in the food-monitoring efforts, with a growing segment of the public and even many experts coming to believe that officials have understated or even covered up the true extent of the public health risk in order to limit both the economic damage and the size of potential compensation payments.
Critics say farm and health officials have been too quick to allow food to go to market without adequate testing, or have ignored calls from consumers to fully disclose test results. And they say the government can no longer pull the wool over the public’s eyes, as they contend it has done routinely in the past.
One result has been a burst of civic activism, rare in a nation with a weak civil society that depends on its elite bureaucrats more than citizen groups to safeguard the national interests, including public health. No longer confident that government is looking out for their interests, newly formed groups of consumers and even farmers are beginning their own radiation-monitoring efforts.
More than a dozen radiation-testing stations, mostly operated by volunteers, have appeared across Fukushima and as far south as Tokyo, 150 miles from the plant, aiming to offer radiation monitoring that is more stringent and transparent than that of the government.
“No one trusts the national government’s safety standards,” said Ichio Muto, 59, who farms organic mushrooms in Nihonmatsu, 25 miles northwest of the Fukushima Daiichi plant. “The only way to win back customers is to tell them everything, so they can decide for themselves what to buy.”
Mr. Muto is one of 250 farmers in Nihonmatsu who started a makeshift radiation-testing center at a local truck stop. On a recent morning, he and a half-dozen other farmers gathered in the truck stop’s tiny kitchen. There, they diced daikon, leeks and other produce before putting them separately into a $40,000 testing device that was donated by a nongovernmental group.
The farmers test samples of every crop they grow, and then they post the results on the Internet for all to see. Mr. Muto knows firsthand how painful such full disclosure can be: he destroyed his entire crop of 110,000 mushrooms after tests revealed high radiation levels.
Read the full post at New York Times.
Related: Mutated Veggies from Japan