First case of radioactive contamination of rice reported in Japan

Inspectors in the Ibaraki Prefecture in Japan just north of Tokyo, have reported radioactive cesium contamination in a sample of rice from the city of Hokota, located 90 miles south of the radiation-spewing nuclear plant. The inspectors said the radiation was well within safe levels, measuring 52 becquerels per kilogram, about a tenth of the government-set limit for grains.

According to the prefecture, two other samples tested at the same time did not show any contamination.

The agriculture ministry said it was the first instance of detection of trace levels of cesium in rice, adding that it posed no health risk. Still, the discovery led to some concern among the population since rice is the staple in most Japanese dishes. It also holds a place among Japanese that is closer to what apple pie holds for Americans, or baguettes for the French.

Fears of atomic contamination of the rice crop had been voiced ahead of this year's autumn harvest, the first since the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident in March. This was compounded by the fact that Japan's mountainous northeast, which bore the brunt of the devastation, is one of the nation's most productive rice-growing regions.

The discovery today would likely add to fears in the country about the safety of Japan's food supply. Radiation exceeding safe levels had already been found in a range of products from beef to spinach and green tea.

Today the agriculture ministry also decided to continue with the ban on sales of beef from Fukushima Prefecture, following a beef sample with high levels of radioactive cesium. The ban was clamped a month ago following detection of radioactive cesium in beef that exceeded safe levels.
 
Meanwhile, the ministry said it would lift a similar ban on beef from Miyagi Prefecture, bordering Fukushima to the north, after farmers there took steps to limit radiation exposure to cows, which included not feeding them locally grown rice straw.