On July 8, radioactive cesium in excess of the provisional government limit was detected in beef from a cow shipped from Minami Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, to a Tokyo slaughterhouse. Later beef from 10 other cows from the city was found to have been contaminated with such cesium.

As of Monday, at least 2,600 cows suspected of having been fed with rice straw contaminated with radioactive cesium were found to have been shipped from Fukushima, Miyagi, Iwate and more than 10 prefectures to all of Japan, except Okinawa.

Their number may increase. The spread of cows suspected of contamination with radioactive cesium from the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant has caused worries to consumers. Many consumers have stopped buying Japanese beef and prices are crumbling.

The problem occurred because rice straw stored outdoors since before the start of the nuclear accidents was fed to cows. Clearly the farm ministry made a blunder. On March 19, about a week after the nuclear crisis started on March 11, it issued a notice to local governments around the nuclear power plant, telling them to make sure that only feed stored indoors is given to cows.

But it did not specifically mention rice straw. It told the local governments to examine hay, but failed to take a similar step for rice straw. Since it did not check how feed was stored, negligence on its part cannot be ruled out. Because radioactive cesium topping the government limit of 500 becquerels per kg was detected in beef from cows originally from Fukushima Prefecture, the government has ordered a halt to shipment of cows from the prefecture. This will deliver a big blow to livestock farmers in the prefecture.

The farm ministry announced that the central government would buy up all the beef containing radioactive cesium above the government limit and burn it. At least the government should examine each cow in Fukushima and adjacent prefectures. It should also carry out detailed examinations of other agricultural products, paying attention to possible hot spots with high radiation levels. It should realize that full disclosure of information is the best way to get back people’s trust in domestically produced food.

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