The government banned beef cattle shipments from Fukushima Prefecture on Tuesday, more than a week after meat from the prefecture showed high levels of radioactive cesium, including some already sold and consumed.
Alarm has spread nationwide over the estimated 650 cows from Fukushima, Niigata and Yamagata prefectures that have been shipped throughout Japan after being fed straw contaminated by the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which has been spewing radioactive material since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
The government did not include Niigata or Yamagata in the ban because no cesium had been found in their beef.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said during a news conference Tuesday afternoon that the government was making sure no other contaminated food products get distributed.
“Because (the government) had not firmly grasped the situation, we caused a lot of concern and trouble, including for consumers,” Edano said. The government “is confirming that there are no similar cases, but at the moment, I don’t think there is anything to be worried about.”
Blanket tests will be conducted on cattle from areas around the crippled Fukushima plant where residents have been asked to evacuate or are obliged to prepare for a possible evacuation, he said.
The ban will be lifted if the test results show the level of contamination is below the government limit. Farmers who have been affected by the shipment ban will receive compensation, Edano said.
The problem came to light more than a week ago, but Edano stressed that Fukushima Prefecture had already been voluntarily refraining from shipping its beef.
“No new (contaminated beef) has been circulated,” Edano said. The government’s instructions “came out today, but the shipments have been halted since the problem was brought to light.”
Edano also said the government was carefully checking to make sure other meat, including chickens, have not been fed contaminated feed, but “basically” believed they were safe.
Separately Tuesday, agriculture minister Michihiko Kano said the government will expand its emergency checks of rice straw feed to cover all cattle farmers nationwide, after radioactive cesium at elevated levels was found in straw farther afield than Fukushima and 10 other prefectures currently being probed.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan apologized Tuesday for the spreading fears over beef. “I feel responsible for not being able to prevent this from happening, and I am extremely sorry,” he said.
In the morning news conference, Edano apologized for the government’s failure to ensure that all farmers were informed of an official notice to refrain from using livestock feed that was stored outdoors.
Edano said affected farmers will be compensated for the economic and psychological damage they suffer from the latest developments, and the government will also pay for losses resulting from the fall in beef prices.
The health ministry has said eating beef a few times with levels of radioactive cesium greater than the government-set limit wouldn’t be dangerous.