In light of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis, the Fukushima Prefectural Government is hoping to find a new, faster and easier way to certify the safety of homegrown rice to ease the burden on local farmers.
The blanket radiation-screening method used in Fukushima is not known for being quick and efficient, yet the government and farmers are stuck with it for the time being until an alternative that is equally assuring to consumers can be found.
Struggling to counter misinformation about locally grown produce stemming from the core meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in 2011, farmers are looking to the globally recognized Good Agricultural Practice system, a third-party standard that certifies adherence to the standards recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The farmers hope GAP can help convince consumers that their products are safe, and holders of GAP certification are rising nationwide.
In addition to the GAP auditing system, there is a Japanese version dubbed “JGAP” recommended by the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry to verify that farmers have recorded their production processes and had their products screened and certified by designated firms and groups. As of 2016, about 4,000 JGAP certificates had been issued.
In May, the Fukushima Prefectural Government vowed to make itself the prefecture with the most GAP certificates. As of Nov. 20, Fukushima had acquired 17 GAP and JGAP certificates. The prefecture plans to acquire more than 140 certificates by the 2020 Olympics.
Separately, Fukushima designed its own verification system (dubbed “FGAP”) to reflect its experience with the nuclear crisis. In addition to the list of items inspected under GAP, such as food safety and environmental protection, FGAP adds a category pertaining to countermeasures for radioactive substances.
FGAP calls for the management of rice paddy radiation levels and for voluntary radiation screenings before shipment. To promote this GAP variation, the Fukushima Prefectural Government plans to cover all expenses linked to the acquisition and renewal of FGAP certificates.
An official from the farm ministry’s Agricultural Production Bureau called GAP an “effective method to raise confidence” in food safety.
The Finance Ministry’s Budget Bureau, which assesses cost allocations for the blanket screening method, said the two systems are “different in nature but looking in the same direction.”
In 2012, the Fukushima Prefectural Government began screening all rice grown in the prefecture after excessive levels of radioactive cesium were detected in the previous year’s crop.
The number of samples exceeding 100 becquerels per kilogram — the government’s safety limit for the isotope — has dropped each year, and no samples tested since 2015 have been found over the limit.
Blanket screening costs an estimated ¥6 billion per year, and Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc, which runs the Fukushima No. 1 plant, shoulders at least ¥5 billion of that. The remainder is covered by state funds.
The prefecture’s environmental protection and farm division said it is keen to speed up efforts to quell false rumors about rice contamination.