I'm losing faith in the goodness and honesty of the agricultural growers in Japan, when they are organized into an association with political clout, like JA.
Shizuoka Prefecture produces over 60 percent of all green teas (final blend) produced in Japan. Right now, it's the season for new teas ("shincha"). Some big money at stake, but recently the high level of radioactive materials was detected from tea leaves grown in Kanagawa Prefecture (east of Shizuoka) and the Ministry of Health and Welfare wants 14 tea-growing prefectures including Shizuoka to test their bulk teas before they are further roasted and blended ("aracha").
Shizuoka has said no. The governor of Shizuoka Heita Kawakatsu, an Oxford PhD elite who was all for Hamaoka Nuke Plant restarting its Reactor 3 back in March after the Fukushima accident, is dead set against testing the bulk teas grown and processed in Shizuoka, saying "It will just confuse the consumer if the radiation is detected." His government tested the raw tea leaves and the final blend, found them below the provisional safety limits (500 becquerels per kilogram for raw leaves, 200 becquerels per kilogram for final blend), so he declares Shizuoka teas to be safe.
Then he hosts the "new tea" promotional event in Shizuoka, and declares "Shizuoka teas are so safe that I could drink it in gulps!" So, according to this Oxford PhD, a good-tasting tea is a safe tea. We've heard the similar remark from the governor of Fukushima and Fukushima JA (agricultural co-op) that Fukushima's vegetables taste so good that they are safe.
Even if the raw tea leaves have low radioactive materials, when they are roasted into "aracha" the radiation level will go up. But then, when "aracha" is further roasted and blended with other "aracha" from other regions into the final products, the radiation level may go down.
For the governor of Shizuoka, the beginning and the end are important. He clearly doesn't care or doesn't want to know what the middle may contain.
(J-CAST News on May 20 says Kanagawa, Saitama, Tochigi joined Shizuoka in refusing the testing of "aracha".)
Here's how Yomiuri Shinbun (3:28PM JST 5/19/2011) portrays the event performance by Governor Kawakatsu:
Heita Kawakatsu, governor of Shizuoka Prefecture issued the "Safety Declaration" on green teas grown in Shizuoka on May 18. Shizuoka prefectural government tested raw tea leaves and blended teas for consumers in 18 locations in Shizuoka for radioactive materials, and the result showed the radiation level was lower than the provisional safety limit set by the national government [500 becquerels per kilogram, raw leaves; 200 becquerels per kilogram, final blend]. At the prefectural government hall, the governor drank a cup of new tea with the growers and declared it safe.
As to the testing of the "aracha" that the Ministry of Health and Welfare is requesting, the governor said his government has no plan to test, because "it will confuse the consumer."
川勝知事はこの日、県内１４産地の茶娘らが新茶を振る舞う県のイベントで、「本県の誇る新茶をみんなで味わって、新緑の季節を祝おう。おいしいお 茶を、広く日本の皆さんに味わっていただきたい」と安全性をアピール。ＪＡ静岡経済連の田中鉄男会長は「検査で県産茶は安全だと確認された。静岡のお茶を 全国の皆さんに安心して飲んで頂きたい」と話した。
Governor Kawakatsu spoke in the event on May 18 with people from 14 tea-growing locations in Shizuoka and appealed the safety of Shizuoka tea. "Let's celebrate the seasons of new green, by drinking our new green teas that we're so proud of. We want people all over Japan to enjoy our delicious tea." Tetsuo Tanaka, chairman of the JA Shizuoka branch said "Now it's confirmed by the government testing that Shizuoka teas are safe. We want everyone in Japan to drink Shizuoka teas without safety concerns."
The Ministry of Health and Welfare is requesting 14 Prefectures including Shizuoka to test for radioactive materials in "aracha", which is made by steaming the raw tea leaves and then roasting them. Vice governor Yoichiro Iwase visited the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries on May 17, and confirmed that there were differences between the Ministries as to how the test should be carried out. [The Ministry of Health and Welfare wants a stricter test.]
Based on that confirmation, Governor Kawakatsu decided not to test because "if we do something that confuses the consumer, that may deepen people's mistrust in the government." He said, "We have tested the tea that will be sold to the consumer and the raw tea leaves, and that's enough."
Matsutaro Saito, chairman of the Tea Commerce & Industry's Association of Shizuoka Prefecture said "That's the word we're waiting for. As the tea merchant of Shizuoka we handle 70% of all teas in Japan. We are going to sell our new teas in close cooperation with the prefectural government."
The Tea Commerce & Industry's Association's website has the test result. Raw leaves had radioactive cesium of between 44.23 becquerels/kg to 138.77 becquerels/kg (Shimizu-ku, Shizuoka City). The final blend had radioactive cesium of between 1.93 becquerels/kg to 10.91 becquerels/kg (Shimizu-ku, Shizuoka City). No radioactive iodine was detected.
Some responses to the governor's safety declaration, from a Japanese message board (original messages in Japanese):
Drink away, governor.
In Japan, safety has become a religion.
If you say it's safe, test "aracha".
If it's safe, he wouldn't need such stupid performance.
The more we're told something is safe, the more fearful we become. Just look at what has happened at Fukushima I Nuke Plant.
Don't gulp it down. Eat all leaves, too.
No one's stopping you, governor.
What is this silly trend of "safety declaration"? Isn't there anyone who says "We won't sell, because it may be harmful to the health. We will get the compensation money from TEPCO, or we'll sue the company if they refuse."
The tea plantation in Shizuoka that I've been buying from has declared their tea is safe by measuring radioactive iodine only. I guess I won't be buying from them.
Who said the radiation stops at the Hakone Mountains and will never reach Shizuoka?