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Beyond Nuclear and others take action to lower radioactivity allowed in food

Beyond Nuclear, in coalition with other groups and individuals from Fukushima Fallout Awareness Network or FFAN, filed a petition with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to drastically reduce the amount of radioactive cesium permitted in food, from a ridiculous 1200 Bq/kg, to 5 Bq/kg (see why here, read why here). The Bq  (Becquerel) is a measure of radioactivity. This week the FDA officially accepted the petition into its process, which means they are now accepting comments.

Our petition asks for a binding limit of 5 Bq/kg of cesium 134 & 137 combined, in food, nutritional supplements and pharmaceuticals. This is necessary because of continuing exposure to radiation from atomic bomb testing and routine releases from nuclear power, and in the wake of the ongoing catastrophe at Fukushima, where the reactors are still releasing radioactivity. We also ask that testing be widespread and, when technologically feasible, measurements below 5 Bq/kg be taken. Through this effort, we would like a database of contamination levels to be established and maintained, with information relevant to researchers, so that movement of the cesium radionuclide in our environment can be tracked since it tends to biomagnify once released.

The current US FDA recommendation, which is not binding, is twelve times higher than the limit in Japan. Before the Fukushima nuclear disaster, any material at or above Japan’s now accepted limit of 100 Bq/kg would have meant handling the contaminated material like nuclear waste is handled. But after Fukushima, up to 100 Bq/kg is considered all right to eat it. Anything above that 100 Bq/kg could be placed in the markets of other countries, like the US, who have higher cesium limits.

Studies indicate that, in post-Chernobyl Belarus, at just 11 Bq/kg of internal cesium contamination children can be susceptible to heart problems.  At 50 Bq/kg, children can start to have permanent tissue damage.

Additionally, in a 2011 report, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), Germany, has determined that the European Union cesium limit of 370 Bq/kg for babies and 600 for adults is woefully unprotective. Such high limits for cesium could be responsible, in combination with other man-made radioactivity, like strontium-90, plutonium-239 and iodine-131 (cesium-137 is a sentinel-indicator for the presence of these other isotopes and often does not exist without them), for roughly 150,000 additional cancer deaths in Germany alone if people consume only products contaminated to the maximum permissible limit. This number does not account for incidence of cancer nor any other wide-ranging diseases or genetic disorders radiation could cause.

The highest limit in Europe is half of the 1200 Bq/kg of cesium the US FDA recommends as its action limit. We should note, however, that the US recommendation comports very closely with the 1250 Bq/kg limit for most foodstuffs proposed by EURATOM (European Atomic Energy Community), the body of the EU that promotes nuclear power.

The IPPNW report recommends a 4 Bq/kg of cesium 137 and a 4 Bq/kg limit of cesium 134 for children, limits very similar to the 5 Bq/kg we are asking the FDA to implement for everyone. Beyond Nuclear believes it is impractical for the US to have one standard for adults and one for children.  It would be difficult to regulate, and add to the cost of implementation, so protection for the most vulnerable, those up to age 17 at least, should be the guiding principle used to set the standard. In fact, the IPPNW report recognizes this fact as well.

Beyond Nuclear and other FFAN coalition partners will be spearheading public participation initiatives in support of this FDA petition, in addition to adding more supporting materials and amendments through the petition process as we help educate the public, the FDA and Congress on this issue. Stay tuned for upcoming actions!

Artwork is from the Strong Children Project.