by Marion Nestle
Apr 6 2011

Are fish from Japan radioactive?

I’m frequently asked what food has to do with politics.

Food, as my colleagues in Food Studies like to say, is an entry point into the most important social, economic, and political problems facing the world now and in the past.

Today’s New York Times story on testing seafood for radioactivity is a case in point.  Food may seem remote from energy policy and nuclear power plants, but it is tightly linked to these issues.  The Japanese have had to dump radioactive water from their tsunami-damaged power plants into the ocean.

The ocean is large and the radioactivity will be diluted, but fish and shellfish have the potential to concentrate it.  That is why high-end restaurants are now testing fish for radioactivity.

Government agencies and experts say that the amount of radioactivity is too low to cause harm:

Patricia A. Hansen, a senior scientist at the F.D.A., acknowledged that the radiation detection methods used to screen food imports were not sensitive enough to detect a single contaminated fish in a large shipment. But she said that small amounts of contamination did not represent a public health hazard….But the important context is, is that one fish at the intervention level a public health concern? No, it is not.”

How credible are such statements?

Nicholas Fisher, a professor of marine sciences at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, said that, according to some radiation safety guidelines, people could safely eat 35 pounds of fish each year containing the level of cesium 137 detected in the Japanese fish.

“You’re not going to die from eating it right away,” he said, “but we’re getting to levels where I would think twice about eating it.”

Low-dose radiation accumulates, and the less to which we are exposed, the better.

Food is plenty related to politics, no?

  • B.

    This is NO safe level of radiation exposure. Period, end of story!

  • Cathy Richards

    Love how you always get great links and info on timely topics. Thanks as always Marion!

    Must put in my plug for sustainable fisheries. We’re so focussed on whether WE’LL get sick or healthy when we eat fish, that we forget all about whether the OCEANS (and thus the earth itself) will get sick or healthy when we eat fish.

    For every time each of us is afraid to eat fish, let’s eat legumes instead!

  • Daniel K

    What part of FOOD is NOT related to POLITICS? whether uncertified organic Local “moreganic” produce picked up at a Farmers Market, or subsidized GMO corn fed factory farm beef picked up at WalMart, or any food or food-like-substance, there is a tremendous amount of legislation behind the food’s availability, prices, labeling and advertising.
    Wow that’s crazy that people ask that question!

  • Ocean is big. It is OK

  • Hilary

    I just read an article about South Korea, saying they’re very afraid of the rain, and additionally they’re scared what this has done to their food, including the fish they eat.
    Makes me realize that we have to really careful about everything we import from any place near Japan, not just Japan itself.

  • Joseph Docu

    Maybe glow-in-the-dark seafood is the new baconator for macho young men to prove to their peers how brilliantly self-destructive they are?

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  • yu kawashima

    NEVER EAT JAPANESE FISH! I am Japanese who has been living in US. Even Japanese people do not eat anymore fish and seafood. Unbelievably, TEPCO (electric company) is still dripping radio-active water in ocean. They just announced they will continue about this act.
    I will so shame to be Japanese. Please help us. Kids are dying. Three times radiation more than Cherno. Government is killing people, they chose money than people’s health. According to German government, 60 percent of near Fukushima people die within 5 years.
    I can just donate money to Fukushima, please help us as US’s government power. They listen to only US…