In the morning of June 9 (JST) a local newspaper in Shizuoka Prefecture (Shizuoka Shinbun) vocally questioned the national government policy on the allowed radiation level for teas in various stages of tea processing. By the nightfall the paper had to report that radioactive cesium exceeding that level was detected in the final tea ("seicha") in one of the 11 tea-growing regions whose test results were announced on June 9.
The results for the other 8 tea-growing regions had been announced on June 8, and the growers and tea merchants in Shizuoka were much relieved to see that the numbers for radioactive cesium were below the provisional limit of 500 becquerels per kilogram and declared the Shizuoka tea to be "safe". (They were actually surprisingly high numbers; they were all in 3 digits, the highest being 385 becquerels/kg.)
(When they declare "safe", flee.)
When the paper questioned the validity of the 500 becquerels/kg standard, it cited, of all things, the minutes of the Nuclear Safety Commission's meeting, in which several commissioners expressed their opinion that the standard should be "flexible" (as I posted on June 2). Shizuoka Shinbun took it to mean that the opinion of the nuclear experts at the Nuclear Safety Commission was not reflected in the policy, which is too severe to the tea-growers and tea-merchants in the prefecture.
The Nuclear Safety Commission, as quoted by Shizuoka Shinbun, is of the opinion that the provisional safety limit should not be used as the guideline to restrict sales of the tea.
Vocal questioning of the national standard for teas (Shizuoka Shinbun 8:08AM JST 6/9/2011):
In light of the minutes of the Nuclear Safety Commission's meeting in which the testing of radioactive materials in teas was discussed, the policy decision by the national government was hardly based on the expert opinion. The reality is that "the national government is unable to listen to the local people as it is busy dealing with the crisis, and the discussion about radioactive materials and food safety is not conclusive," according to the Shizuoka prefectrual government sources.
The research on radioactivity in teas is lacking in the national government, unlike the regulations on agricultural chemicals and additives. The testing [of teas] this time was done at the express request from the Ministry of Health and Labor who is in charge of testing food items, against the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries who insists the testing of raw tea leaves is enough to ensure safety as "aracha" (bulk tea before the blend) is normally not eaten.
Occasionally, people eat raw tea leaves of "shincha" (new tea) in tempura. However, the government's assessment that "the possibility is not zero that "aracha" will be eaten by the consumers" doesn't specifically say how much ingestion will cause a health hazard.
福島第１原発事故は想定外の事態であり、国民の健康維持のため食の安全に関する政策が規制強化に傾くのはやむを得ない。ただ、科学的根拠を欠いた政策判断 がまかり通れば社会不安をあおり、仮に製茶が１キロ当たり５００ベクレルを上回る結果となれば、県や市町、茶業界はそのダメージ回復の手だてを講ずること すら難しくなる。
The Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant accident was "beyond assumption", and it can't be helped if the the food safety policies lean toward greater regulation to ensure the health of the citizens. However, if a policy decision without any scientific basis is pushed through, it will only increase the social anxiety and fear. If "seicha" (final product) is tested for more than 500 becquerels/kilogram [cesium], it will be very difficult for the prefecture, local municipalities and the tea industry in Shizuoka to recover from the damage. (By Tadao Nakajima, Political Desk)
Then the tea that exceeded the 500 becquerels/kg was found.
About the tea that exceeded the national standard (Shizuoka Shinbun 8:09PM JST 6/9/2011):
The Shizuoka prefectural government announced on June 9 that it had conducted the test for radioactive cesium in "seicha" (final product) of "ichiban-cha" (first-pick new tea) produced in 13 locations in 11 tea growing regions in Shizuoka, and found 679 becquerels/kg of cesium in "Hon-yama cha" in the Warashina district of Shizuoka City. The national provisional limit is 500 becquerels/kg.
It was the first time that radioactive materials were detected in the tea leaves in Shizuoka in the amount exceeding the provisional limit. At the remaining 12 locations, the numbers did not exceed the limit.
The Shizuoka government says "It is not the level that will affect health." The government will request 100 tea processing plants in the district not to ship the tea on a voluntary basis, and also request the wholesalers not to distribute.
As Nikkei Shinbun reports, this "Hon-yama cha" exceeding the provisional limit was only discovered because a food grocer located outside Shizuoka Prefecture tested the tea on its own and alerted the Shizuoka government.
I am really losing faith in the Japanese growers.