Radiation concentrates in milk because cows eat grass, and grass and broad-leafed vegetables such as spinach and kale are among the first crops to accumulate radiation from nuclear fallout when it comes down in rain and dust, settling on the leaves and surrounding soil.
Ironically, organically raised cows are more vulnerable, as they are required to eat grass as part of organic certification standards, reports NewHope360.com, an industry news source. However, organic proponents ensure consumers that any levels of radiation are minute and present no risk, and that the benefits of consuming organic milk far outweigh any such risks.
In Japan, spinach grown in the region around Fukushima was banned soon after the accident. Two months later, in mid-May, radiation above maximum allowable limits was detected in tea leaves harvested from farms south of Tokyo – farms that are 200 miles from the crippled reactors, indicating that Japan’s radiation contamination problem is far from over. Radiation has also been detected in potatoes and sweet potatoes in Japan.
In fact, according to a report published on May 29 by the Japan Agriculture Ministry, potatoes may be more susceptible to radiation contamination than other vegetables. Sadly, radiation also has been detected in breast milk from several women in the Tokyo area, raising significant health risks for pregnant women, new mothers and children.
In the U.S., certain fruit and vegetables grown in California are testing positive for elevated levels of radiation from the Fukushima nuclear accident. On May 16, UCB reported detectable levels of radioactive cesium 137 in samples of kale, strawberries and grass grown in northern California. UCB has also found higher than normal levels of cesium 134 and cesium 137 in foods grown in the Bay Area, including spinach, arugula and wild-harvested mushrooms. What are the real risks of ingesting radiation?
Eating radiation isn’t the same as flying in a plane.
The danger is that ingesting or inhaling long-lived, man-made radioactive particles over a long period of time in our water, dust, soil and food is very different than being exposed to electromagnetic radiation from a television or cosmic radiation from a plane ride.
Once it gets in the body, lodging in bones, glands and other organs, it can damage DNA and cells for a long time, significantly raising the cumulative risk of cancer. Radioactive cesium 137 alone has a half-life of 30 years, where it can remain in the body emanating radiation the whole time. The risks are particularly high for pregnant women, infants and children.
Many scientists, including those at Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), claim that no level of man-made toxic radiation in the air, water or food is safe. “There is no safe level of radionuclide exposure, whether from food, water or other sources. Period,” said Jeff Patterson, DO, immediate past president of PSR, in late March. “Exposure to radionuclides, such as iodine 131 and cesium 137, increases the incidence of cancer. For this reason, every effort must be taken to minimize the radionuclide content in food and water,” he said.
“Consuming food containing radionuclides is particularly dangerous. If an individual ingests or inhales a radioactive particle, it continues to irradiate the body as long as it remains radioactive and stays in the body,” said Alan Lockwood, MD, board member of PSR. “Children are much more susceptible to the effects of radiation and stand a much greater chance of developing cancer than adults,” said Andrew Kanter, MD, president-elect of PSR’s board. “So it is particularly dangerous when they consume radioactive food or water.”
Europe: Risks “no longer negligible”
In France, the respected radiological research institute CRIIRAD in mid-April cautioned pregnant and breastfeeding women and children in Europe to avoid eating certain foods due to the spread of radiation from Fukushima, including milk and creamy cheese, and spinach and other broad leaf vegetables, due to the potential health risks associated with ingesting radioactive particles that may accumulate in these foods.
In making the announcement, CRIIRAD said the risks related to prolonged contamination among vulnerable groups of the population can no longer be considered “negligible” and it is now necessary to avoid “risky behavior.” CRIIRAD also estimated that the West Coast of the U.S. is being subjected to eight to 10 times higher levels of radiation than Europe from the nuclear meltdown in Japan.
Chris Busby, Ph.D., Scientific Secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk, who published a “Don’t Panic” guide in early April saying that the danger was insignificant, later changed his opinion. In an April 24 statement to Washington’s Blog, Busby said, “…since then I have re-thought this advice as the thing is still fissioning and releasing 10 to the fourteen Becquerels a day. This will mean that strontium 90 and uranium and particulates will be building up in the USA and Europe. I will assess this later but for now I think it prudent to stop drinking milk.”
This is not something the dairy industry – conventional or organic – nor the produce industry, much of which is based in California, want to hear. One official at a major California-based organic produce company told me, “It made the hair stand up on the back of my neck when I first heard the news about radioactive spinach in Japan.”