Children from nursery schools and kindergartens up to junior high schools in Yokohama City had already been fed the beef from Fukushima since late April. Then the news of radioactive beef from Minami-Soma City broke a few days ago.
The news, which had been dismissed by many as "baseless rumor" and some sort of "urban legend" in Yokohama and elsewhere, has finally been reported on Mainichi Shinbun Japanese more or less (less) on July 12.
An anonymous reader of my Japanese blog, who turned out be a councilman (no party affiliation) of the Yokohama City Council, commented on my blog entry on July 9 that discussed the contaminated beef and radiation exposure of children.
[Correction: The anonymous reader was not the councilman himself but a concerned citizen in Yokohama City. 1:29AM 7/13/2011]
He said in the comment:
Regarding your post, I'd like to alert you to the fact that a large quantity of beef from Fukushima Prefecture has been used in school lunches in Yokohama City, without citizens and parents informed. We are living everyday trying to protect our lives, and with bitterness and regret at our powerlessness. Please spread the news.
He sent me the link to the simple message board the councilman, Mr. Masataka Ota, keeps for his constituents. So I went, and the following is my rough summary of posts and happenings since May, as posted by the councilman and concerned residents of Yokohama. It may change the impression you may have about Yokohama City; it has changed mine:
In mid May, Yokohama announced it would measure radiation in food items that go to school lunches, but the only food items tested would be those grown in Yokohama [i.e. none or close to none]. For vegetables and meat from Fukushima Prefecture, the city considered "safe" because they were tested in Fukushima Prefecture.
In late May, the councilman and many of the people who commented on the board were afraid that the city was using radioactive food stuff for school lunches. But there were many posts from people who said "Oh come on, it's just a rumor, and without a solid data from the government officials we shouldn't speculate. You're all over-reacting." There was even a post from a teacher (as revealed by the IP address, apparently using a school computer) who trashed people who were worried about the food safety for children, with a vulgar, yakuza-like language.
There were messages from parents who had their children carry their own lunches and water bottles to schools and kindergartens, and the schools denied their children to consume those homemade lunches and water.
The mayor of Yokohama and the Board of Education president answered the councilman in a meeting that they considered the food items used for school lunches "are safe, because they are sold in the market", and that they had instructed the school principals to answer the parents that way when they asked about the safety of school lunches.
Then, in early June, the City of Yokohama relented to mounting complaints from the parents and people like this councilman, announced that it would conduct sample testing of the food items for school lunches. At the same time, though, it announced that it would use food items from the disaster-affected areas (i.e. Fukushima) to show support.
Some parents went to ask their school principals and teachers. "Why aren't you doing something to find out if the food is safe?" Their answer? "Well, everyone's eating it."
In the meantime, schools started to prepare for swimming classes in their swimming pools, and not to waste pool water that had been in the pools, they used it to water the school gardens and yards, to the horror of parents who were called "monster parents" for worrying "too much" about radiation.
Then a bombshell.
On June 5, an insider leak to the coucilman from a concerned food stuff dealer. The dealer provided the unique identification numbers for the cows whose meat was used in Yokohama's school lunches.
They were all from Fukushima.
Why would Yokohama City use Fukushima beef for children? Because it was cheap. Because consumers didn't want to buy Fukushima beef if they see it on the supermarket shelves, the price of Fukushima beef had plummeted by 40 to 50 percent. No one wanted it, price went down, a cost conscious city and schools and kindergartens and nursery schools bought it to feed small children, without telling them or their parents the meat was from Fukushima.
The city continued to do absolutely nothing. In mid June, the councilman got another piece of information: prior to the Fukushima I Nuclear Plant accident, there was NO USE of Fukushima beef in school lunches in Yokohama. After the accident, the price of Fukushima beef plummetted. Meat dealers got the cheap meat, sold it to the city, pocketed the very fat margin. Schools, both private and public it looks like, fed small children with the potentially contaminated beef, with the tacit approval of the mayor and the Board of Education.
Aside from the radioactive school lunches, the city also planned to send city's children to a summer school in Ibaraki Prefecture, where the air radiation was more than 10 times the "official" Yokohama number (measured on the top of a 5-story building). The personnel at the summer school privately told the councilman, "I wouldn't recommend it..."
The councilman and concerned parents continued to push for radiation survey of food items for school lunches, but the only items tested by the city were those grown anywhere but Fukushima.
Then, in late June, the councilman reported the result of the meeting at the Board of Education. All the beef from Fukushima that went to school lunches in Yokohama from April 23 to June 7 came from the planned evacuation zone in Fukushima. There were 916 cows from the zone. None of them exceeded 5,000 cpm in surface radiation, but none was tested zero. All were contaminated. The information was obtained by tracing the unique identification numbers for the cows.
On July 9 in Japan, the news broke that the meat from a meat cow from Minami Soma City was found with radioactive cesium of 2300 becquerels/kg, almost 5 times the provisional safety limit (500 becquerels/kilogram).
The councilman's post on July 9:
All Fukushima-grown beef that was served in school lunches in Yokohama City was contaminated. The contamination that was checked at the time of shipment from Fukushima Prefecture was only the surface radiation of a live cow, and there was no information as to the contamination after the cow was processed into meat. School children have already ingested this meat.
There was a leak from some school nutritionists of this fact. But the city, the city's Board of Education and the school principals "lied" by saying "food items for school lunches are safe, because they are sold in the market." As the result, elementary school children in Yokohama City have been internally irradiated.
Finally on July 11, Yokohama City decided to stop using beef in school lunches.
Caveat? They will stop for the month of July, and they will use pork instead, as if pork is safe. The last lunch will be on July 15, then it's summer break.
The city's Labor Union (which includes city workers who prepare school lunches) has issued a statement protesting ... (don't hold your breath) ... the city's decision to stop using beef, as it "will spread the baseless rumor".
One or two detractors on the councilman's board who have been the apologists for the government seem to have disappeared after the news of 78,000 becquerels/kilogram cesium in the hay fed to the cows.
My superficial image of Yokohama as upscale, cosmopolitan city on the Tokyo Bay waterfront was just that: superficial.
The councilman's own website is here (Japanese only).
The Mayor of Yokohama is a 65-year-old woman who was the CEO of Daiei, with many top positions mostly in auto industry before and after, with only her high school diploma. Quite an achievement. Too bad she has been totally tone-deaf on things that doesn't make money, like testing for radiation for the sake of children.
Parents of Yokohama City, please do consider home schooling. Don't even bother sending your children to schools that clearly care more about their bottom lines than children.