Posts Tagged ‘radiation’

Rice market turned upside down by radiation fears

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

Japan’s rice harvest season started at the end of August, and is presently centered on the Tohoku region; or, at least it would be centered there if so much of the crop hadn’t been neutralized by the Mar. 11 tsunami and then what was left wasn’t contaminated by fallout from the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear reactor. Japanese people prize rice grown in the northeastern part of the country more than rice grown anywhere else, and they prefer new rice (shinmai), the newer the better. This is a cultural thing, since in some countries — India and Italy, for instance — older rice is considered something of a delicacy.

What's new? Shinmai from Chiba Prefecture

The earthquake and tsunami hit at around the time of planting, which means a lot of rice didn’t make it into the ground and that which did may have been irradiated. Supposedly, the government checked much of the rice grown in the region when it was immature and decided it was safe, but a lot of people are far from being reassured by such announcements. On Sept. 23, for instance, the government of Fukushima Prefecture said it detected cesium above allowable levels in rice from Nihonmatsu. With more rain and the resultant seepage into soil, the numbers are always changing. Beef from the region became suspect after it was found that the cattle may have eaten irradiated rice straw. All of this has become a familiar pattern: The authorities say there’s no problem only to reveal later something that seems to indicate there is a problem. People react accordingly.

Consequently, the market for rice has been knocked on its head. New rice from the Tohoku region, usually flying off shelves at this time of the year, is being avoided, while old rice from last year’s stocks are in high demand. According to the Mainichi Shimbun, 6 kilograms of 2010 Akita Komachi, a highly valued strain, was selling for ¥12,000 wholesale last January. Now, the same rice from the same harvest is going for ¥20,000. That’s never happened before. Last week, we received a postcard from the consumer food cooperative Daichi saying that they no longer had any 2010 rice in stock. This situation has revived the rice trade, wherein rice futures are traded like stocks, something that hasn’t taken place since before the war when the government started overseeing rice distribution. Moreover, since so many wholesalers sell blends of rice from different regions but don’t necessarily specify which regions on the packaging, people are avoiding cheaper blends that may, in fact, contain no rice from Fukushima Prefecture or even the Tohoku Region. People are even demanding rice grown in the western part of Japan, which is usually scorned as being less flavorful. Normally it isn’t even sold in eastern Japan.

This may be good news for foreign rice, which is only imported because of world trade obligations. Most imported rice is used for processed foods or simply ends up gathering mold in warehouses. What may be gathering mold in warehouses a year from now is rice from the 2011 harvest, which is expected to be a record surplus. According to Bloomberg, this year’s harvest will be in excess of 10 million tons. As of the end of June, there was 3.24 million tons in storage left over from last year’s harvest, most of which will probably be gone before long.

Annals of cheap: Fukushima peaches

Friday, August 26th, 2011

Eat a peach

On Thursday, the government lifted the ban on beef shipments for farmers and ranchers in the Tohoku region. That means cattle can be shipped, but the meat they produce will still have to be inspected for radioactive materials. Ranchers in Fukushima, however, want more. They want the government to buy up the beef that went to market before the ban but was not sold.

Farmers in Fukushima, where the stricken nuclear reactor is located, may attempt similar countermeasures for other produce, which is not selling because the public is afraid it might be contaminated. Of course, the very fact that Fukushima fruits and vegetables are in stores proves that those fruits and vegetables have passed inspection and are thus deemed safe according to government standards, but there’s always fuhyo higai (hearsay damage), which can be as deadly to commerce as any trace of cesium. If sales of certain produce are banned, then the farmers can ask for compensation from the government or Tokyo Electric Power Co., but if consumers just refuse to buy the produce because they’re afraid to eat it, there’s no recourse except to throw the produce away.

As cynical as it may sound, there is a silver lining to this situation, and that’s lower prices. In particular, the prices of peaches from Fukushima are lower than they’ve ever been, and if you’ve ever tasted a peach from the prefecture, you’ll understand what good news that is.

Continue reading about Fukushima peaches →

Consumers suddenly rushing back to pariah produce

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

On Tuesday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano took part in a bazaar in front of the JR Shimbashi Station in Tokyo that featured produce from Iwaki in Fukushima Prefecture. Iwaki is just outside the evacuation perimeter set by the government, and Edano assured shoppers at the bazaar that the food from Iwaki and other Fukushima farms “that are sold in markets are perfectly safe.” To prove it he ate some strawberries and tomatoes.

Edano’s reassurances recalled a similar stunt carried out by the current prime minister, Naoto Kan, in 1996 when he was the health minister during a food-poisoning outbreak that was blamed on daikon radish sprouts. In order to reassure consumers that the sprouts were in fact safe, Kan ate a bowl of them on TV. The implication is that rumors about food safety often outrun the facts, and the government has little recourse except to offer visual proof that the fear of tainted food is unsubstantiated. Usually, however, it’s the government that exacerbated the rumors in the first place.

Continue reading about self-restraint →


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