The economic and environmental consequences of the March 11 earthquake in Japan are still being felt on farms throughout the country. The earthquake triggered massive tsunamis which devastated the Japanese coast, shutting down ports and severely damaging the Fukushima nuclear power plant, leading to a meltdown which contaminated the surrounding seas and countryside.
While the initial meltdown contaminated some agricultural products in Japan, particularly milk and spinach, both of which are susceptible to radioactive contamination, the environmental damage appears to have spread to local beef farms. Cattle at farms within 60 kilometers of the damaged nuclear plant have tested positive for radioactive cesium. The cattle were fed contaminated rice straw, which contained nearly 100,000 becquerels of cesium. The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture’s acceptable limit on cesium is 300 becquerels.
Cattle in the affected farms have been shipped across Japan, leading agricultural officials to investigate the full extent of the contamination. Japanese officials are questioning farmers to determine whether or not they fed their cattle contaminated rice straw and whether there is cause to worry about potential contamination of the national beef supply.
While cesium does not readily accumulate in the human body, the effects of ingesting significant amounts of cesium can lead to health concerns and possibly death. The news of increased contamination is bad for an industry that is already experiencing sluggish sales in light of the fallout. Further damage to the Japanese agricultural industry could force the nation to rely heavily on American agricultural products.
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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer