(Adds government restricting shipments in first paragraph.)
Nov. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Japan restricted rice shipments from an area in Fukushima prefecture called Ohnami after grain was found to contain radioactive contamination higher than safety levels, rekindling food-safety concerns.
Ohnami planted 42 hectares (104 acres) of rice this year, about 1.8 percent of Fukushima City’s total rice crop, according to the local government office. Rice production in the area this year was about 192 metric tons in the harvest ended in October, compared with Japan’s harvest of 8.48 million tons last year.
“We have asked the Fukushima governor to tighten checks on rice produced around the area,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told reporters today in Tokyo. “If we confirm the safety of the grain in the region, we may consider lifting a ban on shipments.”
A sample from a rice farmer in the southeastern part of Fukushima City, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s crippled nuclear plant, contained 630 becquerels per kilogram of radioactive cesium, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
“As the area represents a minor share of total rice production in Fukushima, the restriction will have little impact on rice supply,” said Shin Sato, an official at the ministry’s grain division said by phone today.
Products including spinach, mushrooms, tea, milk and beef were contaminated with radiation as far as 360 kilometers from the atomic station destroyed by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Fukushima Governor Yuhei Sato declared last month rice produced in the prefecture was safe after test results showed no grain samples contained cesium exceeding the government-set limit of 500 becquerels a kilogram.
Cabinet Secretary Fujimura said the government instructed Fukushima prefectural authorities to restrict some shipments of rice from Fukushima City on concerns of contamination.
“We need to examine this case more closely, but I’ve heard this is not something that will spread broadly, but rather a special case,” Fujimura said. “We’d like to ensure this will not lead to groundless rumors.”
The Fukushima office of Zen-Noh, Japan’s biggest farmers group, said it conducts testing on its crops and only ships cesium-free rice to address safety concerns.
Fukushima prefecture was the fourth-largest rice producer in Japan last year, representing about 5 percent of the nation’s harvest, according to the agriculture ministry. Japan exported 1,898 tons of rice in 2010, according to the ministry.
Rice stockpiles in Japan may decrease to the lowest level in four years in 2012 after the disaster curbed production, the ministry said in a report on July 27.
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