Let’s start with the bottom line: the National Academy of Sciences says that exposure to even low levels of radiation can be harmful. They originally shared this finding in a report published back in 2006. This is critical information to consider since we all have legitimate reasons to be concerned with the current situation regarding Japan’s nuclear reactors.
News has spread quickly that evidence of radiation is turning up in several states in the United States. But rather than explain how they will protect people from potential exposures, our government is simply telling us that the levels of radiation are minor and that we shouldn’t worry about it. Did they read the NAS report?
Reminder: There is no safe level of exposure to radiation in food or in water.
From the National Academy of Sciences Report: “A preponderance of scientific evidence shows that even low doses of ionizing radiation, such as gamma rays and X-rays, are likely to pose some risk of adverse health effects.”
The big hook here should be the “preponderance of scientific evidence.”
The FDA has said that it will be blocking imports that come from the region where the nuclear plant sits, but that’s not really enough. Sadly, the FDA would need to block all imports from all of Japan to truly be effective.
It’s true that only four percent of our food imports come from Japan, most of which is fish and processed foods. Considering the fact that 80 percent of seafood in the United States is imported and only two percent is inspected, this becomes much more of a concern. Last year, we imported nearly 600,000 pounds of crab and anchovies and nearly 5 million gallons of bottled water, soft drinks and other non-alcoholic beverages containing water, from Japan. These products may be potentially higher risk if contamination continues to spread to the ocean and fresh water sources.
There is also the possibility of radiation exposure from the plumes that have drifted into North America. While it’s not clear how widespread or severe the contamination is so far, keep in mind that the damage is done over a longer period of time, and it can affect us through the air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we use.
The real danger from radiation will be cumulative and will involve many factors. As humans, we are at the top of the food chain and therefore more susceptible to radiation exposure as it moves up the food chain.
Considering all of these factors, and knowing that we are extremely vulnerable to radiation exposure, we need our government to step up and take action. Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter has sent a letter to President Obama, heads of federal agencies, and Congressional leaders noting that the agencies responsible for regulating our food— the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)—have done very little to detail specific ways in which they are responding to the threat of radiation in food. Food & Water Watch is asking for a comprehensive and transparent plan to monitor and test for radiation, and expand the monitoring program into agricultural regions of the United States. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should increase its monitoring of air, water, and precipitation, as well as step up monitoring of radiation in milk.
If you’d like to learn more about the impact of Japan’s nuclear accident on our food, check out our fact sheet.