What Japan’s Radiation Means for U.S. Food

I am generally what you’d call an anti-alarmist. Seat belts? Cars in the 70s didn’t have seat belts and look at all these people still walking around. Plane crashes? Ridiculously less likely than a car crash. Radiation in my food? Seriously doubt I’m going to worry about it.

Until my husband pointed out that grass and other vegetables can be concentrators of toxins. Even then, I disregarded the importance and even validity of this concern. Until he pointed out that I exist mainly on vegetables. And until Food & Water Watch wrote me an email today telling me “that low-level radiation from Japan has been detected in milk in Spokane, Washington.” That got my attention. Already? Seriously? I’m still not willing to be alarmed, but my curiosity was piqued.

So after much research, the alarming thing to me is that I can’t really pin down any actual information on what I should and shouldn’t eat, and I am left with the realization that nobody really knows. What they do know is that food imported from Japan is likely unsafe, as Japan has detected radiation levels in food, vegetables, milk and in their water supply – “Tokyo’s drinking water has been deemed unsafe for children.” [1]

radiation milk

Image from www.foodandwaterwatch.org

I also learned that we know that the accident in Japan has leaked four identified radioactive chemicals into the air and into the ocean. The two main chemicals being emitted are iodine and cesium. Iodine is necessary for the functioning of the thyroid and your body is continuously replenishing its supply. What you don’t want is radioactive iodine. The other two are strontium and plutonium, which appear to be less of an immediate concern than the first two.† Iodine and cesium can be spread by particulate matter in both air and rain. These particles can land on crops in the US and if they land on grass that cows or other animals eat, we run the risk of ingesting them too, especially through milk. Ocean and fresh water can also take up these particles and then they can be transferred to humans though eating fish and seafood. I think the most compelling part of this information is this line, “Some types of radiation stay in the body, but even if people are able to excrete or expel radiation, it will again return to the environment – to waste treatment plants and then back on to agricultural lands and in waterways.” [1]

What I didn’t learn was what this all really means, other than certainly our foods will be affected – but to what extent, and is it really enough to worry about? The Food & Water Watch’s solution seems the most intelligent, but perhaps also the most difficult to implement: Tightening up FDA regulations against Japanese food and beverage imports; increasing EPA monitoring of air, water, rain and milk for radiation levels; instigation of sampling programs; financial support for these regulating bodies; and a congressional move to change and restrict our agricultural and trade policies with other countries which may not be regulating their levels of radiation.

Interestingly enough, at the same time as the tragedy in Japan unfolds, “The federal budget currently proposed by Congress slashes critical funding for food safety and water programs, threatening the health and safety of all Americans. This includes deep cuts in meat inspection, despite the massive recalls of the past few years, and dramatically underfunding necessary water system improvements. President Obama’s proposed budget is not much better. Both budgets fail to provide basic services that most of us expect, while keeping spending that directly benefits and subsidizes large corporations.” [2]

You can help change Congress’ decision on critical funding for the monitoring and safety of your food and water, by signing an email letter and letting FWW send it to your congress people and your president.

Now, for another opinion, and one that is closer to my normal reaction: The Christian Science Monitor says, “Worry not…contamination is highly unlikely in the US, as is the import of tainted Japanese food.” [3]

I’m going to hedge my bets on this one, and heed CSM’s advice and not worry, as soon as I write Congress and President Obama.

- Jocelyn Broyles

Related Links:
Natural Remedies for Radiation and Toxic Overload
Radiation 101: How Does Nuclear Radiation Affect the Body?

[1] “The Nuclear Accident in Japan: Impacts on Food: Report from FoodandWaterWatch.org. Published March 31, 2011.

[2] FoodandWaterWatch.org

[3] “Japan nuclear crisis: Will radioactive food reach US supermarkets?” by Peter Grier for TheChristianScienceMonitor.com. Published March 22, 2011.

Headline image © Christopher Wallace


jane richmond
jane richmond6 years ago

it is what it is.

Jane R.
Jane R6 years ago

I'm not going to waste my time worying. There's nothing we can do about the situation anyway. I don't think we're in any danger.

Christa Deanne
Oceana Ellingson6 years ago

I have a feeling it's more serious then they're exposing. They're probably just trying to keep this world in a non-panicked mode, but it scares the shit out of me no matter what they say. Radiation is NOT good.

Mit W.
Mit Wes6 years ago

The iodine shouldn't present much a problem to the western hemisphere, as Iodine-131 has a half life of 8 days. By the time it gets here, it will be mostly gone and what's left diluted. Even biological concentration can't keep up with the 8 day half life. Any preserved food contaminated with it will see it's level of iodine 131 halved every 8 days.

Cesium, though, has a half life of 30 years, enough time for biological concentration and little of it would be gone in preserved foods used within a decade. But, again, by the time it gets here, it too would be diluted. Chernobyl, the (radioactive) gold standard of nuclear accidents spewed far more of everything than the japanese reactors, and we are still doing quite well, thank you. Pu 239 has a half life 24100 years. long enough to stick almost a million years but short enough to cause death in enough qunatities. Fortunately, very little of this has leaked out from Japan, and, also will be diluted by the time it gets here. Pu-244, half life of 80 million years, exists in trace amounts in nature.

I, for one, will be sleeping well tonight.

Shelly Peterson
Shelly Peterson6 years ago

This is and will affect the whole World's food chain...because everything is connected! There is NO EXCUSE to build another nuclear plant anywhere on the face of Planet Earth!! Thankyou.

Carey Xop
Capree Kimball6 years ago

how much radiation is in it?

Geraldine H.
Gerri Hennessy6 years ago

Always hated nuclear power

Jeanne J.
Jeanne J6 years ago


Jeanne J.
Jeanne J6 years ago

Thank you..

Sarah Zemke
Sarah Z6 years ago

Thank you