FDA Bans Some Japan Food Imports | Chemical & Engineering News
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Web Date: March 23, 2011

FDA Bans Some Japan Food Imports

Safety: Agency prohibits all fresh produce, milk, and milk products from area near crippled nuclear reactor
Department: Government & Policy
Keywords: Japan, FDA, Radiation

The Food & Drug Administration has banned the import of all fresh produce, milk, and milk products from areas near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan that appears to be leaking radiation. The power plant sustained heavy damage during the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan and officials have been working around the clock ever since to prevent burning and meltdown of the plant's reactor cores and spent fuel rods.

The FDA move on Japan food products comes after Japanese inspectors found radioactive iodine (I-131) at five times acceptable levels in fresh spinach and other vegetables, dairy products, and infant formula from the region. FDA is assuring the public that "there is currently no risk to the U.S. food supply." Japanese imports make up less than 4% of all foods imported into the U.S., the agency says.

I-131 has a half-life of about 8 days, so it will decay in a few weeks. But if it is ingested, it can damage the thyroid and lead to cancer. To prevent contamination of the U.S. food supply, FDA has ramped up its screening efforts at the border, ordering inspectors to test all food shipments from affected areas in Japan for radioactivity.

But top Democrats in the House of Representatives are questioning FDA's approach. FDA should test all foods imported from Japan for radioactivity, not just those from areas surrounding the Fukushima nuclear power plant, wrote Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) in a March 22 letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg.

Similarly, Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ), raised concerns about contaminated seafood and meat, as well as produce and dairy products in a letter they wrote to Hamburg on March 20. Radioactive particles are known to settle from the air onto pastures and cropland, but they can also "be carried over the open ocean and fall out with precipitation," the two Democrats wrote. They questioned whether such contamination would find its way into fish.

The food safety agency has downplayed that possibility, however. "The great quantity of water in the Pacific Ocean rapidly and effectively dilutes radioactive material, so fish and seafood are likely to be unaffected," reads a statement on an FDA website. Nonetheless, FDA is screening all seafood shipments from affected areas in Japan for radioactivity.

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