Clearing up the tea testing confusion (with updates)

This is a follow up to my previous post about above-safety limits levels of radioactive elements (namely, cesium) found on tea grown in Kanagawa prefecture. As I’ve stated in the updates in the poat, tea grown in Ibaraki and Chiba prefectures were also found with similar levels of cesium. All such tea has been destroyed and has not reached the market.

In the comments to that post, there seems to be some confusion over news reports that stated that Kanagawa and Shizuoka prefectures refused to have ‘bulk tea’ tested. This is misleading and erroneous.Tea goes through 3 testable stages: the fresh, unprocessed tea leaves called nama-cha (meaning ‘raw tea’); partially processed, unsorted tea called ara-cha (which literally means ‘rough tea’); and the final brewed tea called inyo-cha (meaning ‘drinking tea’). Kanagawa, Shizuoka, Chiba, and Ibaraki prefecture tea growers, with the backing of their respective prefectural governors, have had the fresh unprocessed tea leaves and the final brewed tea tested for radioactive substances, not the in-between ‘rough leaves’ state. As a consumer, the final number seems to be the most important one to me, since that’s what I would actually be drinking.

I’ve also found this data sheet issued by Shizuoka prefecture. It lists the radioactive substance levels tested on tea harvested at various locations around the prefecture. (Note: the Japanese data sheet has been up since the testing dates but it took them a bit longer to translate it into English. I’m glad they did…makes my job easier!) To reiterate again: this is this year’s new tea crop. It does not apply to the tea that is already at your stores, especially if you are not in Japan. If you’re in Japan this applies to any shincha (new tea) you may start seeing soon. (More about shincha.)

So, as I covered in my previous post, iodine-131 already seems to have died off, as it were, and is no longer detectable. Cesium has been detected, but at below-safety-limit levels, even on the fresh tea leaves (which would probably have the highest concentration of cesium). Most of the numbers are way belog the 500 becquerel safety limit. (Though I wish they would explain the 379 Becl number in Izu at top, with the much lower number measured a few days after. Rainfall?). You can also check out how they brewed the tea at the bottom of the page.

Anyway, these numbers are available for you to draw your own conclusions. I think it would be interested to test all tea leaves, just for comparison’s sake. Is the tea grown in China ok? India? Sri Lanka? (Personally I would not hesitate to drink Shizuoka tea, or even giving it to a baby, though of course, babies probably shouldn’t be drinking tea in the first place!)

One final note: I have tried as much as possible to be patient, but I have to say I’m getting a bit tired of this subject, especially with people who want to argue something along the lines of “we want NO radiation” etc. Please refer to the Chart and avoid sleeping next to a person or eating a banana for the rest of your life.

(Regular readers, I promise, the usual recipe-type fun programming will return shortly. ^_^;)

[Update] It looks like aracha will now be tested after all, on the insistence of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW). Opinions on this are divided even in the central government, with the Ministry of Agrigulture (and fisheries and forestry etc…boy these Japanese ministry names drive me nuts) opposing the MHLW’s position. In the meantime, some farmers are independently testing their on aracha in Shizuoka; so far none has been found with unsafe levels of cesium or other substances. For instance Sugimotoen, a no-chemical tea farm in Shizuoka, published the results of testing on their web site, leaving it up to the customers to decide. [/end update]

[Another update] Above-safe limits cesium (679 becquerels) was found on the aracha (bulk processed tea, see above for definition) from one tea producing area in Shizuoka; that tea has been withdrawn from the market. (This was reported on June 9th by the way.) Tea is still being harvested in Shizuoka prefecture, and each harvest is being tested.

In the meantime, Ashigaracha producers in Kanagawa prefecture (see previously) have decided to cut their tea plants to the ground, therefore giving up this year’s entire harvest. This is in spite of the fact that, so far, they have had no firm assurances of getting any compensation from either TEPCO or the central government. (During a press conference on June 10 Cabinet Secretary Edano indicated that affected tea producers should be ‘under the same consideration’ for compensation as other farmers.) [/end update]

[Final update] Posted July 30: Since this article was first posted, there have been more reports of cesium contimination in the food supply. The one that has been reported on the most is beef, from Fukushima and surrounded prefectures. (See above about cesium and its long life vs. iodine-131.) Again, to me at least this is not unexpected; obviously the radioactive contamination was caused by those big hydrogen blasts back around March 15-16th. The radioactive stuff contaminated the grass of which the cows grazed, and those cows are just recently entering the food supply. Some beef has been withdrawn from the market. Many school lunch programs stopped using beef from affected areas. (Perhaps thankfully, Japanese schools are now in summer vacation.)

Should the government, or farmers, be blamed for this? Should “someone” had the foresight to prevent it? Perhaps, though I am not sure if it could have been foresawn. There is plenty of fingerpointing going on in Japan right now, and maybe eventually the ‘blame’ will be attached to something or someone to peoples’ satisfaction.

Speaking of blame. I’ve received a few emails and comments accusing me of underplaying the danger, of burying my head in the sand, of being in denial, and so on and so forth. (Incidentally I delete any such insulting comments because they don’t serve any purpose, and I don’t with other readers to be disturbed.) First of all, I find this somewhat laughable since I’m one of the very few food bloggers (in English at least) even writing about these matters at all. It would have been easy for me to totally ignore the fallout (excuse the term) caused by the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident, as many have done. Having done so seems to have made me an easy target for some malcontents. Secondly, it puts me in good company, because I’ve seen similar accusations being leveled against others who have tried to take a calm, dispassionate look at the data instead of running around blindly, led by our noses by whatever is sensationalisted in the news media (in English, Japanese or whatever language) screaming “the sky is falling”. There are plenty of those in Japan, as well as elsewhere. I saw someone write elsewhere about not having to worry about racism for much anymore since “we’ll all be fried by the fallout from Fukushima”. I think they were serious, too.

In any case, This will be the last update related to radiation contamination. I do hope that this article and related ones have helped a few people. Stay educated.

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Re: Clearing up the tea testing confusion

Thank you, thank you, thank you. You posts are an important source of information since I am living in Japan and do not speak the language and good sources of news are limited (or I haven't found them yet ; - ) My "Livestation" broadcast of NHK doesn't work because it detected I was in Japan LOL. I have to settle for the "top" stories from the NHK main site : - (

Ann Mehrman | 2 June, 2011 - 05:13

Re: Clearing up the tea testing confusion

I am also tired of this subject. I live in Tokyo, and if you want to be informed about the radiation levels and the water and food testing, it is possible to do in English.

The ministry of Health has a whole section devoted to food and water safety:
http://www.mhlw.go.jp/english/

If you live in Tokyo, you can check out the water testing results. Daily -
http://www.waterprofessionals.metro.tokyo.jp/news.html

I am still more concerned about the plight of the farmers who have lost their livelihoods... and I am still searching out farm markets that support them.

Now we are seeing the effects of bad publicity with e coli on the Spanish farmers. Irresponsible news reporting has a lot to answer for this year, from the farmers in Japan to the farmers in Spain.

Pam Huxtable | 2 June, 2011 - 14:39

Re: Clearing up the tea testing confusion

Isn't it appalling how much the news media went from informing to overly opinionated and sensationalizing situations out of perspective?

elle marie | 3 June, 2011 - 07:33

Re: Clearing up the tea testing confusion

Interesting. Glad to see common sense still prevailing - even if it has to be outside of the news media. Thanks Maki!

avlor | 2 June, 2011 - 15:28

Re: Clearing up the tea testing confusion (with updates)

Contaminated green tea has been found and seized in France. It is tea from Shizuoka.

We've already seen banned products sold in some supermarkets in Japan, so nothing can stop people from trying to sell them abroad. There is a control, but customs can't control everything.

By the way the radioactive level was 1038 Bq/kg which means twice the limit of 500 Bq.

I am not one of those who are over worried but we're never too cautious.

shugirl | 18 June, 2011 - 04:59

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