On March 11, 2011 the devastating earthquake and tsunamis that caught Japan and the world by surprise carried with them heartache and destruction. The triple meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant are not only affecting Japan. Due to the powerful jet stream, a growing number of people throughout the Northern Hemisphere are aware of Fukushima’s potential impact on the food supply. Even foods thought to have superior nutritional value are at risk.
Flash back to April 1, 2011. After what seemed like an eternity of online searches for any news about Fukushima’s impact on our food in the US, I wrote an urgent petition to the US Congress and President Obama asking for transparent, responsible food monitoring. The petition took on life of its own, leading to a paper, and then a 100 page book, “Silence Deafening, Fukushima Fallout..A Mother’s Response.” I reconnected with an amazing community of activists who had been devoting their lives to raising awareness about the dangers of nuclear power for years. They immediately understood the threat that Fukushima was posing to our food supply. Beyond Nuclear, Citizens for Health, and Ecological Options Network are a few of the groups that joined Fukushima Fallout Awareness Network (FFAN) and then met several times with US Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein’s top aides alerting them to the health dangers posed by Fukushima’s radioactive releases.
Those same FFAN member groups filed a legal document known as a Citizen Petition with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on March 12, 2013. The petition states that FDA should significantly lower current permissible levels of radioactive Cesium in food, nutritional supplements and pharmaceuticals . There is also a companion petition to President Obama, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg and Congress at MoveOn.
Last month brought some encouraging news. The American Medical Association (AMA) passed a resolution asking the US government to test seafood for radiation. Finally, a reputable mainstream medical organization is recognizing that Fukushima is posing a threat to food. But the current leve for testing is shockingly high, 12 times higher in fact the amount that Japan allows their own citizens. As a result of this radioactive loophole, Japan is able to export potentially contaminated food to the US. This is one of many reasons why responsible food testing is urgently needed.
Government oversight and media coverage has been in extremely short supply since Fukushima began. TEPCO, the operator of the crippled Fukushima reactors, was forced to admit in August that they had been dumping over 300 tons of radioactive water in the Pacific daily for an indefinite period of time. As a result the New York Times, CNN, and NPR and other mainstream media began covering the worsening crisis more frequently. One recent article caught the attention of many: “Why the Fukushima Crisis is Worse than You Think.”
But it’s not just Fukushima, not even close. In reality the Atomic Age has been polluting our environment with cancer causing radiation releases since the 1940’s preparation for the first atomic weapons tests in Utah and Nevada. Those bomb blasts released radiation below ground and into the atmosphere over the southwestern US, and riding the jets stream further east. The Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Richland, Washington produced weapons grade plutonium for nuclear bombs for decades and is situated on the Columbia River. The Columbia has been called the most radioactive river in the world because of Hanford. So as you can see, the problem is not just coming from Japan. And to top it off, every one of the 104 nuclear reactor sites in the US is storing large stockpiles of highly radioactive waste which post a threat to the environment and human health.
As a nutritionist and concerned adult, I’m realizing that the nuclear fuel cycle doesn’t lead to a dump somewhere to be determined. Truth be told, it leads to our environment, grocery stores, kitchens and ultimately to our kids. In the spring of 2011 a trip to the store was like a trip down the rabbit hole: what was real, what was imaginary, what could be trusted, or not. Our “Right to Know” as consumers and parents must include the right to know which food is contaminated by Fukushima Daiichi’s radioactive fallout.
We need to look more closely at food, cancer should not be a birthright. Thinking outside the box is a healthy response, at least until our government steps up and begins monitoring. Are you eating nori, kombu, udon, sushi, rice, spices, or drinking green tea from Japan? Chances are you don’t know for sure unless it’s obvious on the label. It appears that Japan as a country has disappeared on government agency websites such as at USDA and instead is listed as “Rest of the World”.
As a blogger I write from personal experience about food choices. It’s important to emphasize that California topsoil and California kelp have shown measurable levels of contamination from Fukushima along with several types of agricultural and dairy products. Until we have testing we can assume food that grows in either soil or in the Pacific Ocean could potentially be affected. That’s just common sense. There are no absolutes, no easy answers. But clearly we need to rethink food safety in the ongoing wake of the Fukushima crisis. Always remember, location, location, location ~ where is the food coming from?
Here is a list of popular foods touted for their health benefit. All require closer scrutiny until the FDA starts responsibly testing the US food supply:
Apples ~ are a wonder food, high in fiber, vitamins and minerals and a popular snack with kids. Kids drink a lot of apple juice too and pediatricians often advise parents of very young babies that it helps relieve digestive issues. The pectin in apples helps lower heavy metal toxicity, and new research points to anti carcinogenic properties too. But where are the apples grown? If you live out west, be mindful. The Columbia River Valley in Washington State grows a vast amount of apples; the Columbia River has been called the most radioactive in the world due to the Hanford Reservation’s history of weapons grade plutonium production for nearly seventy years. More bad news, I know. But with knowledge comes power..our kids lives depend on becoming educated and taking action.
Berries ~ After the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Russia in 1986, researchers learned that strawberries and wild berries attracted higher concentrations of radioactive Cesium. Just think for a minute how many foods and beverages are made from berries. Jams, jellies, pies, popsicles, juices, the list goes on and on. I’ve tried to at least substitute other juices like lemonade, limeade, and mango.
Butter ~ Same as other dairy products, butter from grass fed cows has increased potential for radiation accumulation. The good news it that there are alternative oils for spreading, cooking and baking: hemp, coconut, almond, safflower, sunflower, soy and canola are others to consider. I try not to stick to one type but to have a variety.
Cheese ~ Almost immediately after Fukushima started spewing radiation in 2011, France’s Commission for Independent Research and Information on Radioactivity (CRIIAD) advised pregnant women, children and the elderly to stop eating soft cheeses. Countries in the European community have been much more aware of the Fukushima threat because of their proximity to the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown in 1986. If you can source cheese that has aged three years or longer, buy it up now. If not, choose as carefully as possible until we get testing. I like to try some of the non-dairy types of cheeses too, some are really tasty.
Fish oil supplements ~ Some companies will tell you that they test scrupulously for heavy metals. Visit their website or call them to verify. I switch to flax seed oil and hemp oil occasionally. They both come in liquid and capsules and have many of the same health benefits of fish oil. Hemp also has a delicious buttery taste.
Grass fed beef ~ Prized by carnivores for superior levels of omega 3 linoleic acid over the conventionally raised corn-fed variety. But larger animals who are cultivated for a longer life span tend to accumulate more radioactive Cesium. Beef, like tuna, is in that category. Grass is a potential source of radiation because the jet stream brought pouring rain to the US in March and June of 2011. Common sense says that eating lower on the food chain more often would mean less exposures to animals that bioaccumulate radionuclides like Cesium 137 and Strontium 90. A few stores carry New Zealand beef, and its worth a try as far as I’m concerned.
Green tea ~ Much of the world supply comes from China and, you guessed it, Northern Japan. Ironic and worrisome, considering how so many people love to guzzle green tea thinking that it will help prevent cancer. Fair Trade coffee grown in the southern hemisphere is one option, yerba mate is another. Of course the benefits of green tea and yerba mate far outweight those of coffee, but there are trade offs to consider since Fukushima started. Coffee doesn’t seem as much of a negative now as it did before.
Milk ~ Grass fed organic needs to be looked at closely too. There are options which, when incorporated in the diet, can help to lower accumulation of radiation in the body. This is especially important to remember because we always hear how much kids need milk and calcium. Soy, hemp, almond, oat, coconut, rice are all alternatives to cow’s milk and are fortified with calcium too.
Sea salt: Ok, the word “sea” should always be a heads up. Sea salt is in all kinds of foods these days, and somehow just the word “sea salt” seems to mean healthier. It’s harvested from the ocean and deserts too. It’s never a bad idea to call the company and ask about their production methods and if they test for heavy metals.
Seaweed, kombu, nori ~ Time and again we are seeing blogs and articles advising that seaweed is radiation protective and should be used now more than ever in the diet. Dried seaweed has become a popular snack with kids due to the crisp texture and salty flavor. But until sea vegetables are tested for radiation, there is a good chance that seaweed has been or will soon be exposed to radiation releases from Fukushima. Thankfully there are alternatives like chlorella and spirulina. Again, I always like to check out a product before buying. Do they test for heavy metals?
Wild mushrooms ~ We know from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster that mushrooms attract radioactive Cesium. Indeed mushrooms get much of their nutrients from the atmosphere and can’t differentiate healthy minerals from unhealthy ones. Over 80% of conventionally raised button mushrooms are grown “indoors” but it’s unclear if that means completely indoors or a covered green/warehouse area. Personally, unless I know exactly where they are coming from. Honestly I haven’t eaten them since Fukushima began.
Wild caught salmon, tuna, sushi ~ As mentioned earlier the AMA is recommending that US seafood be tested for radiation due to Fukushima. Atlantic salmon is hard to find on the West Coast, and some people are choosing to avoid seafood altogether until responsible testing happens.
Clearly, it’s no longer business as usual when it comes to food safety, be it for conventionally grown or organic. It’s important to understand that anywhere there is soil to grow food, or water to harvest seafood, there is the potential for radionuclide contamination in the Nuclear Age. Without testing, how do we know what is safe or not?
To find the petitions and for more information go to www.ffan.us.