Prefecture cannot gauge cows’ internal exposure

Farmers only asked to report if they kept feed, water covered

by Minoru Matsutani

Staff Writer

The Fukushima Prefectural Government admitted Tuesday it has no way to scientifically gauge the internal radiation exposure of cows in Minamisoma, one of its northern coastal cities, following recent revelations that cattle from there that ate radioactive straw were later shipped to Tokyo and other prefectures.

The prefecture had asked cattle farmers to monitor the radiation levels of their animals’ backs and legs before the cows are sold, using equipment that detects external radiation exposure, said Hideaki Ando, a prefectural official in charge of the livestock industry in 12 northern coastal municipalities, including Minamisoma.

To assess the possibility of internal exposure, his division had farmers fill in questionnaires asking if they keep cows under a roof and give them water and food kept indoors, he said.

A farmer in Minamisoma, near the radiation-leaking Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, sold 17 live cows containing radioactive cesium exceeding the central government’s provisional maximum acceptable level.

The farmer lied in the questionnaires, according to Ando.

“We are sorry we didn’t have a system to check if the answers were true,” he said.

The farmer fed the cows straw that had been left outside from last October to April, Ando said. The farmer was quoted by media reports as saying, “I did it because I had nothing else to feed my cows.”

In response to the incident, the prefecture demanded Minamisoma refrain from selling cows.

Starting Friday, it will also conduct inspections of all cattle farms within 30 km of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, the village of Iitate and parts of other municipalities with high radiation levels to check if they are following the prefecture’s instructions.

Meat processors in Tokyo and Tochigi Prefecture bought the 17 cows in May, June and July. Some of the meat has already been sold to shops in at least Tokyo and Kanagawa, Shizuoka and Osaka prefectures.

Beef from Minamisoma was found to contain radioactive cesium levels ranging from 1,530 to 3,200 becquerels per kg.

The tests were conducted at the meat processor in the Shibaura district of Minato Ward, Tokyo, on Monday and Tuesday. The provisional maximum acceptable level is 500 becquerels per kg.

It is difficult to convert becquerels to sieverts, a unit indicating the degree of harm to the human body, because there are too many variables.

The Asahi Shimbun reported Tuesday that an adult could get a dose of 3.9 millisieverts by eating 200 grams of meat with 3,400 becquerels per kg every day for a year.

A dose of 100 millisieverts is believed to increase the chance of death by cancer by 0.5 percent.

The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry on March 19 urged farmers in Fukushima to keep animal feed and water inside in an effort to prevent cattle from getting an internal radiation dose.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry asked animal farmers in Fukushima to strengthen monitoring of livestock radiation levels but left specific checking methodologies up to municipalities, a ministry official said.

Livestock had been a major industry in northern coastal Fukushima.

The area had about 20,000 cows before the nuclear crisis but has lost more than 80 percent because farmers had to kill them after abandoning them for a couple of months when they were forced to evacuate, Ando said.

Many farmers left home and could not get back. Others went out of business because consumers wanted no part of Fukushima beef.