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For Japan Farmers, Radiation Fears Mean Economic Pain

Chiyoko Kaizuka weeds her spinach field last week in Moriya, Ibaraki prefecture, Japan
Chiyoko Kaizuka weeds her spinach field last week in Moriya, Ibaraki prefecture, Japan

This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

Japan's nuclear crisis may mean greater demand for imported food and less competition from Japanese products on world markets. But it also means that Japanese farmers and others who make and sell food have to worry about their future.

Yasumichi Tanaka sells fish at one of Japan's busiest fish markets. But now there are fewer fish to sell.

YASUMICHI TANAKA: "Fish supplies from the radiation-contaminated regions have been totally halted."

The radiation is from the Fukushima nuclear power station that was damaged by the March eleventh earthquake and tsunami. The extent of the problems are still not clear.

Last Friday, China joined a number of other countries that have banned imports of food from the affected areas. Chinese media said the banned items include milk products, fruit, vegetables and seafood.

Singapore also has a ban in place. Restaurant manager Connie Hon says some people are worried about eating Japanese food.

CONNIE HON: "Consumer confidence is yes, somewhat shaken I would say amongst some of the Singapore populace, but that can't be helped, I think."

The United States has also banned foods from radiation-affected areas, and so has the Japanese government itself.

Radioactive particles travel in the wind and get absorbed into soil with the help of rain and snow. Then plant roots take up the material and the plants become contaminated. Animals eat the plants and their products become contaminated.

Some kinds of radiation stay in the environment longer than others.

Medical physicist Jerrold Bushberg is a radiation expert at the University of California, Davis. Professor Bushberg says removing the topsoil might make the land safe for use. But it depends on the depth of the radioactive material. And for now, he says, it is too early to take any measures.

Experts say the ocean will help dilute radiation in seawater. But the tsunami also destroyed seafood, sank fishing boats and leveled processing plants.

Charles Ebinger studies the politics of energy at the Brookings Institution in Washington. Mr. Ebinger says the danger to adults from radiation-contaminated food is overstated. Still, the affected areas of northeastern Japan are deeply dependent on agriculture and fish, he says. So their economy could suffer the most.

And that’s the VOA Special English Agriculture Report, written by Jerilyn Watson. You can download free transcripts and MP3s of all of our reports and other Special English programs at I’m Bob Doughty.


Contributing: Mil Arcega