Rice harvesting is starting in Japan, and there is concern that some regions in Tohoku may be contaminated. The government has ordered 14 prefectures to test rice, according to NHK World:
If the amount of cesium in the post-harvest test exceeds the government-set safety level of 500 becquerels per kilogram, shipments of rice from that area will be banned.
Farmers will be obligated to dispose of the banned rice. Tokyo Electric Power Company, the owner of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, is to pay compensation to the farmers.
The government says 14 prefectures from northeastern through central Japan will be subject to the inspections.
Tests will also be carried out in areas where more than 1,000 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram in the soil or more than 0.1 microsieverts of atmospheric radiation have been detected.
Other municipalities will be asked to refer to the government guidelines when carrying out tests on a voluntary basis.
In Shizuoka prefecture, south west of Tokyo, an early variety of rice called Natsushizuka was harvested and independent testing showed no traces of radioactive substances, according to this story on NHK (in Japanese only). The farmer, Kenji Oishi in Kikugawa City is quoted as saying how glad and releived he is.
I haven't followed the beef issue here so much but I find it curious that cattle farmers are promised ample compensation, while a lot of others who have lost income or been out of work due to the March 11 earthquake and tsunami (and nuclear disaster) get no help at all. As for general food safety issues, I wrote a paper that was published over at Japan Focus, trying to discuss what we actually know so far, trying to avoid any speculation or scare-mongering:
Food Safety: Addressing Radiation in Japan’s Northeast after 3.11
My main conclusions?
We can only express our deepest sympathies to everyone involved in the rebuilding of the Tohoku region. It is important to note that vegetables or other foods that are being measured outside of the most contaminated region in Fukushima prefecture show very low levels or do not show any detectable levels of radioactive substances three to four months after the nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant. In most parts of the Tohoku region in northeastern Japan, there is zero or almost no detectable nuclear contamination. In the rest of Japan, consumers can rest assured that there is no radioactive material on their dinner tables.
Based on the official data as published by Japan’s Ministry of Health, it emerges that three to four months after March 11, with the exception of food from certain areas in Fukushima prefecture (and possibly tea that was grown outdoors on tea shrubs since March), Japan’s farmed food supply and its products can be generally regarded as safe. Japan has 1.9 million farms producing food from Hokkaido in the north to Okinawa in the south, and will by all accounts continue to make every effort to feed its population with domestic vegetables, fruit, grains, and so on.
Thinking ahead, the issue of soil contamination and accumulation needs to be addressed and carefully monitored, as it will affect rice production, especially in parts of Fukushima prefecture. Pollution problems such as asbestos, dioxin and PCB, due to post-March 11 fires and indiscriminate burning of debris and garbage, will add to the health risk. There are also worries about small or large radioactive hotspots in areas with higher levels of contamination from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant. More precise maps of the contamination must be prepared by reliable methods.
Much needs to be done to limit long-term contamination and protect consumers in addition to generally help regain the trust and confidence in Japanese food. Producers also require support. Farmers, fishermen and food producers need to be compensated and areas devastated by earthquake, tsunami and meltdown need to be restored with due attention to radiation risk. The stakes for Japan in doing so are high.