Two-phase tests set to check rice

At least 18 prefectures to test recent crop for cesium contamination

Kyodo

The farm ministry is planning a two-phase rice test to check this year’s crop for radioactive contamination from the leaking power plant in Fukushima Prefecture, officials said Monday.

The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry intends to start with preharvest sampling tests in several regions to narrow down potential problem areas. The second phase would involve testing harvested rice, they said.

The sampling test appears to be black and white — inspectors will test unmilled rice in each region for cesium isotopes. If rice in a region contains cesium above the government limit of 500 becquerels per kilogram, all farmers in that region may be banned from shipping rice.

If cesium levels are below but close to the limit in a certain region, the rice will undergo further radiation testing once it has been harvested.

Radiation tests on wheat have been conducted in 14 prefectures, but the sampling tests for rice will be cover a wider range of prefectures in response to public concern that has been snowballing from the belated discovery of radiation-contaminated beef cattle in many prefectures.

At least 18 prefectures plan to conduct rice tests. These include Akita, Aomori, Miyagi, Fukushima, Tokyo, Shizuoka and Kyoto.

Officials from Chiba and Tochigi prefectures, meanwhile, said late Monday that they have decided to examine locally cultivated rice for radiation to ensure farmers only ship rice that is safe to eat.

Chiba, which was the nation’s ninth-largest rice producer last year, said it intends to start sampling tests in almost all of its municipalities as early as this week. Tochigi said it will start testing at 180 locations mid-August.

Niigata Prefecture was the largest producer of rice in 2010, followed by Hokkaido, Akita, Fukushima, Yamagata, Ibaraki, Miyagi and Tochigi prefectures.

The farm ministry meanwhile said it will provide local authorities, mainly in eastern Japan, with specific instructions on how to test harvested rice for radioactive material this week, it said Monday.

In April, the ministry prohibited farmers in Fukushima Prefecture from planting rice in areas near the nuclear plant, based on tests of their rice paddies.