Despite rumors, Fukushima food safety concerns ease inside prefecture

17 May 2015

[Translated by The Japan Times] Some 78.1 percent of Fukushima residents bought local food goods in fiscal 2014 rather than produce harvested in other prefectures, up about 10 percentage points from the year before, a survey conducted by the prefectural consumers’ group association shows.

The survey indicates that safety concerns among residents about food harvested in the prefecture are easing despite persistent rumors since the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

The survey also showed that more than 80 percent of those surveyed said they had purchased processed food made from Fukushima ingredients.

Despite this bump inside the prefecture, consumers outside have tended to avoid food produced in Fukushima, calling for continued safety screening.

The questionnaire was distributed to 1,100 people, including some members of the consumers’ group, of whom 1,045, or 95 percent, responded. Respondents came from the cities and towns of Fukushima, Aizuwakamatsu, Koriyama, Iwaki, Shirakawa, Sukagawa, Soma, Nihonmatsu, Minamisoma, Date, Motomiya, Koori, Kawamata, Minamiaizu, Aizumisato, Nishigo, Izumizaki and Namie.

Of the total, 237 were male and 808 were female. Around 28.4 percent were in the 60s, while those in their 20s to 40s comprised 22.1 percent.

When asked which local produce they most often purchased, 63.6 percent said they bought goods harvested near their residences, while 14.5 percent said they bought produce from inside the prefecture but not harvested near their home, the survey said.

Another 12.7 percent said they purchased produce harvested in neighboring prefectures, while 8.0 percent said they bought domestically harvested products that were not from Fukushima or neighboring prefectures, the survey showed.

Those who said they most often purchased overseas produce came to 0.4 percent, putting the number of those surveyed who mainly purchased produce from outside of Fukushima at more than 20 percent.

Respondents who most frequently purchased produce harvested near their residence shot up 14.4 percentage points from the year before. In contrast, those who usually bought food from neighboring prefectures fell 5.4 percentage points. Those who bought food produced domestically but not in Fukushima or neighboring prefectures decreased 5.7 percentage points, the poll showed.

According to the survey, 43.9 percent said the reason they bought processed food using Fukushima produce was because they believed it safe, while 27.2 percent cited its taste and 16.7 percent said they were supporting local industry. Those who said they rarely buy such produce stood at 8.9 percent.

Although the association said it didn’t have an accurate analysis of each age bracket’s consumer behavior, those in their 20s to 40s tended to buy products from outside the prefecture in fiscal 2012, when the first survey was conducted.

However, in the latest survey more of those in the same age bracket said they were purchasing Fukushima produce.

“Although more people in each age category seem to feel that (local Fukushima products) are safe, there are people who still avoid them,” said Yoshiko Tasaki, 59, the association’s executive. “We’re still seeing bipolar tendencies.”

The survey also covered Fukushima residents’ thoughts on the risks of low-level radiation exposure.

To compare the mindset of consumers in Fukushima and those outside the prefecture, the association asked the same questions as in a nationwide Consumer Affairs Agency’s questionnaire.

When asked their thoughts on the risks of exposure to radiation levels so low that health effects weren’t detected, 18.1 percent still said it is unacceptable even if it is within approved limits, down 12.9 percentage points from the previous year.

The corresponding figure in the Consumer Affairs Agency survey was 21.0 percent, up 2.1 percentage points, demonstrating a gap between those inside and outside the prefecture.

In fiscal 2015, which began April 1, one of the Fukushima Prefectural Government’s top priorities has been to dispel harmful rumors about local food products by promoting the safety of its agricultural produce at a variety of events.

“At present, people outside the prefecture and those overseas still (have concerns over the safety of foods in Fukushima),” said an official in charge of promoting its products at the prefectural office. “We’d like to believe that the best way to tackle the issue and promote our products is by providing accurate information (to consumers).”