After Japan’s Nuclear Disaster, is Seafood Safe?

Could oceanic radioactive materials affect food? Health writer explains

Recently I’ve had a number of people ask me if Pacific-caught seafood will still be safe to eat following the recent nuclear disaster in Japan. The short answer is that things look promising. Here’s why.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, less than 4% of total U.S. food imports come from Japan and most of that is packaged foods and snacks that are more typically found in specialty markets and imported food sections of your grocer. Leafy greens, dairy and meat – the foods most susceptible to radioactive contamination are a rare import. When it comes to seafood, the U.S. imports about 2% of its supply from Japan, but most of that is caught well out to sea, and not from fish farms in coastal regions such as the area where the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex sits. Any foods from that area could prove problematic, but given the devastation done by the tsunami to that region, it’s unlikely that any goods will be imported from there anytime soon.

Although elevated levels of radiation have been found in milk and vegetables in the regions surrounding the plant, and experts advise not eating any seafood caught within 30 kilometers offshore, the effects on wildlife in the sea, according to Bill Camplin, of England’s Center for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, are unlikely to be severe. That’s because ocean currents and natural dilution by the sea water are likely to spare marine life and underwater ecosystems

The ocean can absorb significant amounts of radioactive materials such as iodine-131 and cesium-137, the two most common radioactive isotopes coming from the plant, before it becomes unsafe for marine animals or humans, although health authorities must still monitor seafood, seaweed and other ocean products. Ken Buessler, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts notes that iodine and cesium are soluble; they would be diluted in waters 100 to 300 feet down then carried off by the current. Authorities will be monitoring the Pacific waters and any fish caught in it to be sold for consumption for some time to ensure safety.

There are good reasons to stick with eating wild-caught seafood, if you’re not already, as opposed to farm-raised fish. Free-roaming wild salmon, for example, have naturally high concentrations of Omega-s and a natural rich, red color from their diet, which is mostly krill. Farmed salmon are gray in color due to their diet and confinement. To make them appealing to the eye, they are fed chemical dyes. Their diets consist of pellets which contain combinations of chicken feces, corn meal, soy, genetically modified canola oil and other fish which increases levels of PCBs. Their confinement in pens inhibits mobility which fosters disease. For this the salmon are administered antibiotics at higher levels than any other livestock. Pacific-caught wild fish may be pricier, but it is sustainable, clean, and the health benefits abound.

More on farmed salmon can be found at:

Environmental Defense Fund

Science Daily

Global Week in Action Partnership

Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch

Mary Porter is a nutrition educator and counselor living in the Fort Hunt area. Her company, A Better Plate, works with individuals and corporations teaching the art and practice of nourishment. You can email her at mary@betterplate.com


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