FDA Bans Milk, Vegetable, Fruits From Nuclear Plant Crisis-Affected Areas in Japan
Food and Drug Administration Stops Imports to Calm Fears of Radiation
By LARA SALAHI March 22, 2011
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said today it will stop all milk products and vegetable and fruit products imported from the Japan's prefectures of Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma from entering the U.S. -- a response to public fears about radiation from Japan's crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
This announcement comes despite the agency's repeated assurances that radiation found in foods in Japan was small, and posed no risk to the U.S. food supply.
Since 9/11, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have implemented blanket radiation screenings for nearly all U.S. imports, including food. The FDA programmed its import tracking systems to flag food shipments from Japan automatically, amid growing contamination concerns after this month's earthquake.
But the agency says it will now stop all shipments of milk products and fruits and vegetables originating from radiation affected areas from entering the U.S. It will detain these products without radiation screening, according to an FDA spokesperson.
In 2010, the U.S. imported $16.5 billion worth of milk, fruits and vegetables, of which a small fraction -- $6.725 million -- came from Japan, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Most of the imported dairy products are processed foods such as casein and cheese. Imported fruits and vegetables include potatoes, frozen vegetables, citrus fruits and melons.
Japan has already placed restrictions on foods, including spinach and milk that were produced in two provinces around the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Food inspectors detected iodine and cesium in the food, two of the more dangerous radioactive byproducts that are feared to have been released from the reactors in Fukushima.
While Japanese officials said none of the produce found to be contaminated in Japan has been shipped out of the country, there might have been some contaminated produce that was not tested and could have slipped through. Many food-safety experts say that consuming food or milk that contains high radiation levels can be as dangerous as exposure to high levels in the air.
High levels of iodine that can be absorbed through the milk can accumulate in the thyroid gland and cause thyroid cancer. High levels of cesium can damage cells and put many people at higher risk of developing other kinds of cancer.
Officials Say Japanese Seafood, Other Products Still Safe
While milk, fruit, and vegetable products seem to be the highest concern for the FDA, experts say there's no need to boycott sushi or other seafood delicacies just yet. Less than 4 percent of food is imported to the United States from Japan, including processed and snack foods. About 2 percent of the seafood the United States consumes comes from Japan, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Scallops are the largest seafood import from Japan to the U.S.; in 2010, nearly $64 million worth, 3,300 metric tons, came from there.
The largest perceived danger may be around raw seafood that is used to make sushi. Tuna is the second largest seafood import from Japan, with nearly 350 metric tons and nearly $4 million worth of imports, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But that is about a tenth of scallop imports.
Also, radiation levels become diluted in large bodies of water, so officials said seafood caught from the ocean should have only trace amounts of radiation, if any.
(Note: This import alert represents the Agency's current guidance to FDA field personnel regarding the manufacturer(s) and/or products(s) at issue. It does not create or confer any rights for or on any person, and does not operate to bind FDA or the public).
Import Alert # 99-33
Published Date: 03/22/2011
Import Alert Name:
Detention Without Physical Examination of Products from Japan Due to Radionuclide Contamination
Reason for Alert:
This import alert represents the Agency's current guidance to FDA field personnel regarding the manufacturer(s) and/or product(s) at issue. It does not create or confer any rights for or on any person, and does not operate to bind FDA or the public.
On March 11, 2011, an 8.9 magnitude earthquake triggering a 30 ft tsunami struck the Pacific Coast of Japan. The force of the tsunami destroyed a great deal of the infrastructure along portions of the Japanese coast. The most notable damage from the tsunami has affected the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The following prefectures are in the closest proximity to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant: Fukushima, Gunma Ibaraki, and Tochigi.
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant houses several nuclear reactors that have posed signs of a potential threat of radiological contamination to the surrounding areas. Due to the public health concerns that are associated with radiation and nuclear contamination, FDA has increased surveillance of regulated products from Japan.
On March 19, 2011 the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare confirmed the presence of radioactive iodine contamination in dairy, fresh produce, and infant formula products. Japanese data analyses revealed that the food products measured from March 16-18, 2011 indicated the presence of radioactive iodine was five times the acceptable levels. The elevated levels were identified in products tested in Kawamata Town, Fukushima Prefecture and Ibaraki Prefecture, areas around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Though radioactive iodine has a short half-life of about 8 days and decays naturally within a matter of weeks, there is a risk to human health if radioactive iodine in food is absorbed into the human body. If ingested, it can accumulate in and cause damage to the thyroid. Children and young people are particularly at risk of thyroid damage due to the ingestion of radioactive iodine.
On March 21, 2011 the Japanese Prime Minister ordered the Governors of the affected prefectures of Fukushima, Gunma, Ibaraki, and Tochigi to stop the distribution of spinach and kakina (a local Japanese vegetable) into the market, and ordered the Governor of Fukushima prefecture to stop the distribution of raw milk. This means no such products may lawfully be placed in the domestic or export markets.
FDA recognizes that the government of Japan is taking steps to address this issue and FDA will continue to provide support to their efforts.
Districts may detain, without physical examination, the specified products from firms in the Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, and Gunma prefectures.
FDA and the Japanese government will continue to collaborate to ensure products from the affected prefectures do not pose a health risk to U.S. consumers. FDA will continue monitoring the public health risks due to radionuclide contamination, and when appropriate will remove the Import Alert and resume routine coverage of entries.
Questions or issues involving operations should be addressed to the Division of Import Operations & Policy contact identified in the listing.
For questions or issues concerning science, science policy, sample collection, analysis, preparation, or analytical methodology, contact the Division of Field Science at 301-796-5992.
All specified products from the affected prefectures in Japan:
For the above specified products from the affected prefectures of Fukushima, Gunma, Ibaraki, and Tochigi in Japan:
The article is subject to refusal of admission pursuant to Section 801(a)(3) in that it appears to contain a radionuclide, a poisonous or deleterious substance which may render it injurious to health [Adulteration, Section 402(a)(1)].
OASIS Charge Code: RADIONUC
For spinach and kakina (a local Japanese vegetable) from the affected prefectures of Fukushima, Gunma, Ibaraki, and Tochigi in Japan; AND
For milk from the Fukushima prefecture:
The article is subject to refusal of admission pursuant to Section 801(a)(2) in that it appears to be forbidden or restricted in sale in the country in which it was produced or from which it was exported. [Section 801(a)(2)].
OASIS Charge Code: FORBIDDEN
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