Prime Minister Naoto Kan placed an indefinite ban on spinach and another local vegetable produced by Fukushima and neighboring prefectures Monday after samples were found to be abnormally radioactive. He also suspended Fukushima milk.

The food ban, the first since the nuclear crisis began, is certain to alarm a public already anxious about radioactive fallout from the troubled reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano appealed for calm after the announcement.

“What I want people to understand is that the amount of (contamination) will not pose a risk to public health even though the figure exceeded government standards,” Edano said.

“It may have a negative effect on the human body if someone continues to eat the product throughout his or her life,” he said. “But experts agree that there is no health risk if a person eats the products occasionally.”

The ban affects shipments from Fukushima, Ibaraki, Gunma and Tochigi prefectures and also applies to “kakina,” a locally grown green vegetable.

How long the ban will last depends on how long it takes to resolve the crisis, Edano said, indicating it won’t be lifted until radiation drops below government limits.

The top government spokesman said farmers will be compensated for their losses and that Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the stricken utility, would be the entity held primarily accountable.

In anticipation of price hikes following Monday’s decision, Edano said the farm ministry had already instructed farmers elsewhere to raise output to keep supply balanced with demand.

On Saturday, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry revealed that radiation in samples of spinach and milk produced near the nuclear power plant were above the allowable limits.

Spinach harvested at a farm in Hitachi, Ibaraki Prefecture, was found to have 54,000 becquerels of radioactive iodine per kg, or 27 times the legal limit, while 5,250 becquerels were detected per kg of milk from the village of Iitate in Fukushima, or about 17 times above the standard.

Until days ago, when they were hastily drafted by the health ministry, no standards existed for radiation levels in food, prompting a public outcry.

Under the new guidelines, no milk or other dairy products containing more than 300 becquerels of radioactive iodine or 200 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kg can be shipped. The figure for vegetables is 2,000 becquerels for iodine and 500 becquerels for cesium.

The health ministry, meanwhile, reported that Iitate’s tap water contained three times the allowable limit for iodine.

Edano said the ministry instructed Iitate’s 6,000 residents to refrain from drinking tap water “just to be on the safe side,” despite giving assurances it was safe for household needs.

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