OECD agency eyes new global standards on radioactive content in food

12 April 2016

The Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is poised to lay down new international standards regarding concentration of radioactive substances in food. The move is expected to lead to a unified yardstick for judging safety, thereby helping relax import restrictions still imposed by some foreign countries on Japanese food in the wake of the 2011 nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant.

The NEA policy was made known by officials concerned during the first International Forum on the Decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station held in Iwaki city, Fukushima Prefecture, on April 10-11. The agency is urging member countries to endorse the policy in an effort to reach agreement within a year.

In his keynote speech on the opening day, NEA Director General William Magwood pointed out that even if a country that has experienced a nuclear accident declares its food safe, other countries do not have a means of confirming the accuracy of such information. He stressed the need to unify ways of measuring radioactive concentration and standards that differ from country to country. Magwood indicated that his agency will work with its 31 member countries more strongly to reach agreement on the proposed unification.

Standards on radioactive content in food vary widely depending on the countries concerned and the type of products. In Japan, the maximum allowable radiocesium content in vegetables and other ordinary food is 100 becquerels per kilogram as provided for by the Food Sanitation Act. Food exceeding the standard cannot be shipped or distributed.

A similar standard for bread in Ukraine, where the Chernobyl nuclear accident occurred, is 20 becquerels and it is 40 becquerels in adjacent Belarus. In the European Union, the standard for general food is 1,250 becquerels while the U.S. standard is 1,200 becquerels for all food.

(Translated by Kyodo News)