Saturday, July 30, 2011

#Radioactive Beef: Cesium Is Not Evenly Distributed in a Cow

Ooops. Amateur hour at the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare who thought testing one sample from the meat of one cow would be enough.

According to Mainichi Shinbun, the Japanese authorities are finding out that the different parts of the same cow have different concentration of radioactive cesium. Not only that, the same part of the meat from the same cow can yield two different test results. That means even the meat that was tested and deemed "safe" (tested below 500 becquerels/kg of radioactive cesium) may not have been safe after all.

Before they actually started to measure, the prevailing opinion from the radiation experts was that radioactive cesium would get evenly distributed in the muscles throughout the body. Amateur hour at the radiation experts, too. (Now they are changing tunes.)

So, no one knew, and no one knows what they're doing. I seem to fondly recall some of the words of Japan's consumer advocates - "the experts say it's safe...", or "why should we waste taxpayers' money testing all cows?", or "if only media did the good job of providing accurate information..." Amateur hours there, too.

My message to consumers: caveat emptor.

From Mainichi Shinbun Japanese, Tokyo Morning Edition (7/31/2011):


Regarding the beef contaminated with radioactive cesium due to the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant accident, there are cases where the different levels of cesium are detected from the different parts of the same cow. Experts explain that "the level of cesium differs depending on the parts." The national government will have to come up with the guideline so that the reliability of the radiation tests to be done on all cows by the local governments.


On July 28, Miyagi Prefecture disclosed that the radioactive cesium was detected that exceeded the national provisional safety limit (500 becquerels/kg) in one part of the cow, while another part was found with cesium less than the safety limit.


This cow was processed in Sendai City [in Miyagi Prefecture] on June 21. When Yokohama City [in Kanagawa Prefecture] tested the shoulder meat, 380 becquerels/kg of cesium was detected. However, when Hokkaido tested the round of the same cow, 530 becquerels/kg of cesium was detected.


In the case of another cow shipped from Miyagi to Tokyo on June 1, the same meat yielded two different test results. When a meat dealer in Tokyo tested part of the shoulder meat voluntarily, 1,150 becquerels/kg of cesium was detected. However, when Kawasaki City tested the same shoulder meat from the same cow, it was only 618 becquerels/kg.


According to Miyagi Prefecture, they used the germanium semiconductor detectors in all 4 cases. The prefecture says "The detectors allow a thorough analysis, and there's no problem with the detectors." The problem is the lack of standard procedure for testing, and the prefecture explains "you get different results depending on the fat content, or how the meat is packed."


In preparation for the testing of all cows by the local governments, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare announced the basic plan for the testing on July 29. The plan allows the use of simpler testing devices that can test the meat in less time than the germanium semiconductor detectors, but there was no mention in the plan as to which part of the meat should be tested.


The Ministry of Health and Labor is aware of the differing numbers, but says "From the cases so far, cesium is supposed to accumulate evenly in the muscles. We will just have to find out the appropriate way to deal with the problem by carrying out more tests" (Ministry's Monitoring and Safety Section). The Ministry is asking the local government to stop the entire shipment of the meat from the cow even if only one part of the meat is found with cesium exceeding the provisional limit.


Anonymous said...

Who knew? is so right. As Professor Kodama eloquently and bravely told the Japanese government, there is just so much we don't know.

When former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld admitted to a mocking press corps, "There are the known unknowns and there are the unknown unknowns", his remark, far from being stupid was, perhaps, the most intelligent a senior government official could utter. There are no 'mulligans' or 'do it over agains' when it comes to war or radiation exposure. The consequences are final and irrevokable. A surfeit of caution is warranted when there is no sure information.

Anonymous said...

True, that was a good one from Rummy, war criminal extraordinaire. I think Kant or Schopenhauer or one of those philosophers said the same thing a while earlier.

In Japan everything is a don't want to know unknown by definition given that fatalism is the national ethic. "Shiyo ga nai" it can't be helped.

As for the dead flowers and leaves in Tokyo, the location is near where I live. I asked my wife and it was probably due to the incredible heat wave we've had over the last several weeks, hot even for a Tokyo summer.

Anyway, radiation is good for you don't worry be happy shut up and eat.

Anonymous said...

Totally serious question for the owner of this blog or anyone out there:

How difficult would it be for a smart, concerned citizen with extra time & money on their hands to do the following (and we know lots of people in Japan are smart and have money, so the venn diagram of all the above characteristics is not a empty sat, actually has many members). Or has anyone done this:

1. Buy an appropriate food testing instrument.

2. Buy up one of each item at a local japanese supermarket far away from the disaster, e.g., Kansai.

3. Test all the items from the supermarket.

4. Publish the results to a blog, with clear statement of how to interpret the results, as it relates to increased cancer risk.

Put the controversy to rest once and for all. Let me ignore the incompetent government officials reassure me no matter what, and the internet scare-mongerers trying to scare me over every little thing. I'm sure lots of people would be interested to read it whether the results are good or bad.

Has anyone done that?

Anonymous said...

Testing is expensive, I hear. In Europe, after Chernobyl, people that could afford to test formed coops to buy and test their foods using certified labs. Don't eat mushrooms.

Anonymous said...
From those in charge at is all safe

Anonymous said...

"The problem is the lack of standard procedure for testing." No kidding.

It's unconscionable, from a public health perspective, that authorities still have no established protocol for food testing more than four months after the emergency began. And, as long as the ingestion pathway contamination problems under control, an emergency still exists. Moreover, ingestion pathway precautions will be needed for many years, so authorities need to get this right, right now.

The lack of a standard procedure (or protocol) implies inadequancy in the EMERGENCY PLAN (or complete absence of one) and inadequate COORDINATION among those whose efforts are needed to implement the plan.

Nasty surprises like these would be less likely if the government's plans for responding to a nuclear emergency were available for public review so that problems could be spotted in advance of an actual emergency. The current situation shows why SECRECY creates more problems than it avoids.

Anonymous said...

Oops. Cut and past error. That should read, "And, as long as the ingestion pathway contamination problems continue, an emergency still exists."

Anonymous said...

Oh I'm sooooo tired of hearing from the "experts." With their mail order degrees and political appointed jobs, these hacks should be laughed at, not listen to!

They need some basic science skills which they obviously lack. Here, I will explain for them a simple principle....Radiation bad. Eat radiation, very bad. Radiation at ANY AMOUNT is death. Is that understood?

Oh, and having the Government raise the allowable exposure number doesn't change physical or biological laws. Radiation would still be deadly in any amount over time!

Of course, I know I'm dealing with a bunch of monkeys here that will eat their own shit!

Anonymous said...

Any tip about guts ?
It's a big piece, and very popular food.
A lot of amateurs.

Anonymous said...

Really, no one on the whole country, not even a patriotic, wealthy & retired engineer, has tested & published results from a random sample of foodstuffs at the local grocery store so we can settle this once and for all?

Instead we're all left to speculate & wonder - should we believe the internet scare-mongers or the corrupt & incompetent government stooges?

Anonymous said...

"Really, no one on the whole country, not even a patriotic, wealthy & retired engineer, has tested & published results from a random sample of foodstuffs at the local grocery store so we can settle this once and for all?"

I think you are underestimating the complexity of the problem. If a single person with some device could do it, like many are measuring radiation with a Geiger counter, then a lot of people would be happier.

It's an issue a well-resourced entity like a government has to solve, and the government doesn't seem to want to.

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