February 16, 2018
A harvested rice bag is certified as having passed a radiation level inspection in Naraha, Fukushima Prefecture, on Oct. 5, 2016.
FUKUSHIMA–Authorities are weighing random checks instead of blanket radiation testing of rice grown in the prefecture as three years have passed without incident.
There has not been a single case during that time of tainted rice exceeding the national safety standard, officials explained.
Blanket checks were introduced in 2012 in response to the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant the year before and consumer concerns about food safety.
Harvested rice is checked bag by bag for certification before shipment. The safety threshold is set by the government at 100 becquerels per kilogram.
But some farmers’ groups and other parties remain wary of a switch to random inspections due to lingering suspicions that rice from Fukushima Prefecture remains hazardous.
Since blanket checks began, prefectural officials have inspected 60 million or so bags of rice totaling 2.1 million tons. Not a single instance of tainted rice has emerged since 2015.
Given that exhaustive steps have been taken to reduce the absorption in crops of radioactive substances and that the inspection process places a burden on farmers and related parties, officials are trying to find the best timing to implement a review of the testing method.
Fukushima Prefecture announced plans in January to review the process, but for the time being will keep blanket checks in place.
Discussions are being held to introduce random inspections in as early as three years. A decision will be announced in fiscal 2018.
Authorities also plan a publicity blitz to put lingering safety concerns to rest about grain from Fukushima.
Other agricultural products from the prefecture are subject to random testing.
Agricultural experts and others have no qualms about switching to random testing, but the Japan Agricultural Cooperative in Fukushima is calling for discussions to first elaborate on what random inspections will entail to help alleviate safety concerns and restore the reputation of rice grown in the prefecture.
In 2010, before the nuclear disaster unfolded, Fukushima Prefecture ranked fourth in terms of rice production with annual output at around 445,000 tons.
Even after the disaster, it has ranked within the top 10.
However, the wholesale price of Fukushima rice has not returned to pre-disaster levels in spite of the blanket inspections.
A survey by a consumer affairs group in the prefecture in 2017 found that 66.2 percent of 1,550 respondents favor continued blanket testing.
Although the figure was 6.9 points lower than a survey the previous year, it still shows that food safety concerns remains a major issue.