Seikatsu Club Adopts Voluntary Standard on Radioactivity Levels
The Seikatsu Club Consumers' Co-operative Union (SCCCU) has adopted a voluntary standard on radioactivity levels in its food supply. While the national government enacted a safety standard on radiation levels on April 1st, SCCCU had a tentative standard of its own, but this tentative version was improved to have a broader scope.
Objectives of the Voluntary Standard
SCCCU believes that there should be no "threshold" for radioactivity which can be considered safe, and takes the position that the internal radiation dose from food should be as small as possible. The nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is far from coming to an end. People are being forced to endure exposure to radioactivity in the long term. SCCCU does not consider it safe even if people only consume foods whose radioactivity is within the permissible levels laid down by the government.
On the other hand, SCCCU also faces the fact that "zero tolerance" is no longer possible, even though people desperately wish us to implement such a criterion. SCCCU works with consumers and producers to build a structure which enables a sustainable lifestyle with the minimum risks from radiation. With these objectives in mind, SCCCU has elaborated its own "voluntary acceptance levels" and other measures to deal with radioactivity.
Outline of the Voluntary Standard
◆ Drinking water, milk (raw milk), dairy products (1), baby food, rice: 10Bq/kg
◆ Chicken eggs, meat (poultry, pork, beef): 20 Bq/kg
◆ Dairy products (2), fruits and vegetables, seafood, processed food: 50 Bq/kg
◆ Mushrooms: 100 Bq/kg
＜Description of the Voluntary Standard＞
Under the government rules, “general foodstuffs” (whose acceptance level was set at under 100 Bq/kg) include all food items except for drinking water, milk, and baby food. SCCCU has adopted the acceptance levels of 50 Bq/kg (half the government standard) for “fruits and vegetables”, “seafood” and “processed food”, 20 Bq/kg for “chicken eggs” and “meat” (poultry, pork and beef), 10 Bq/kg for rice, which is a staple food and whose intake level is higher than other food. For dairy products which are produced in factories run collectively by the Seikatsu Club and dairy farmers, the acceptance level is 10 Bq/kg (one fifth the government level of 50 Bq/kg).
Dairy products (1) include yoghurt, ice cream, and fresh cream from raw milk produced by the Sinsei Rakuno (a subsidiary of the Seikatsu Club). The screening tests conducted by SCCCU show that the radioactivity levels of those products are less than 10Bq/kg. Dairy products (2) include cheese and butter from other raw milk sources. The acceptance level has been set at 50 Bq/kg based on screening test results.
SCCCU does not produce any lines categorized by the government as "baby food and infant formula", but has specified two confectionery products (small round cookies and wafers) which are considered to be consumed as baby food (10Bq/kg).
Under the government standard, only mineral water and green tea are included in the category of "drinking water". Under the SCCCU standard (10Bq/kg), on the other hand, fermented tea (oolong tea and black tea), herb tea, barley tea, and green powdered tea are included.
As for mushrooms, SCCCU adopted the government acceptance level of 100Bq/kg. SCCCU's voluntary screening tests sometimes find cesium at levels of over 50Bq/kg.
Voluntary Standard Based on the Vast Range of Voluntary Screening Tests
The objective of the radioactivity standard is to prevent foods whose radiation levels are higher than the acceptance levels from being released onto the market. In order to achieve this goal, a large amount of various foods have to be tested on a regular basis.
SCCCU has implemented screening tests covering all its product lines since the nuclear accident occurred last year. In total, it has tested 25,363 samples (as of the end of July, 2012). The number of samples tested by national and local governments combined is 153,920 (as of the end of June). If you compare these figures, you will see how intensive the SCCCU's screening tests are. The testing method uses four sodium iodide scintillation counters of two different kinds. This method was introduced to ensure both accuracy and simplicity. At this early stage of within one and a half years after the nuclear accident, it is important to have not only accurate tests but also a large number of test samples.
The SCCCU's voluntary standard was elaborated based on the results from these intensive screening tests. That is why it is workable even though it is far stricter than the government standard.
Thorough Information Disclosure
As mentioned above, there is no "safe" acceptance level of radioactive substances. Even a small level cannot be considered safe. Ultimately, it is consumers who decide whether or not to eat a particular food. In order to make decisions, thorough information disclosure is needed rather than simply a green light from third parties.
SCCCU releases all the testing results on its official website. The information includes not only the results as to whether radioactivity was detected or not, but also the detected levels and the detection limits. "Tolerance levels" differ depending on the lifestyles and values of individuals.
Working with Producers
It is only possible for consumers to build such a structure if they work closely with producers. Producers agree to provide testing samples, disclose information, and take measures to reduce radiation levels, including decontamination. They agree to do so based on the partnership between consumers and producers.
Fortunately, there has been only one case where radiation was found above the acceptance level. In about one percent of all the samples, cesium was detected within the acceptance levels. SCCCU is now building a structure to compensate losses incurred by producers in the case that SCCCU has to refuse their products after radioactivity is detected above the acceptance level.
In the face of a global food crisis, we should no longer allow the nuclear disaster to destroy food production in Japan. We hope you will keep a close eye on SCCCU's model of food production, which has been built collectively between consumers and producers.