March 21st, 2011
01:15 PM ET
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Photographs from iReporter felixlace show Tokyo store shelves with dwindling food resources.

As Japan struggles to find footing after an earthquake and tsunami devastated much of the country, a nuclear threat now looms over the land as reactors suffer physical damage, allowing the release of radiation into the atmosphere.

Today, World Health Organization spokesman Peter Cordingley claimed that short-term exposure to food contaminated by radiation from Japan's damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant poses no immediate health risk. This echoes Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano's stated belief that the levels of radiation in food - while above the legal standards - do not pose any immediate health risk, and that they are mostly dangerous only if consumed repeatedly over one's lifetime.

While Dr. James Cox, an oncology professor at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, tells CNN's Thom Patterson that he believes the radiation levels measured in milk and spinach that tested positive for radioactive cesium-137 and iodine-131 isotopes pose a "nonexistent" immediate risk to humans, and "very low" long-term risk, he concedes that "radiation doses ingested through food is really very poorly understood."

The lack of definitive answers - and immediate solutions - is based largely in a lack of empirical evidence. Test subjects are limited to those affected by the 1945 nuclear attacks Nagasaki and Hiroshima and the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster. In those cases, the research didn't focus as much on the thyroid gland and the presence of radioactive isotopes - the same iodine-131 isotopes found in current samples of milk and spinach from the region - in food.

Dr. Cox also notes that while there was a higher instance of cancer in Chernobyl residents who drank contaminated milk, its effect was inconclusive, as the subjects had been exposed to radiation in other ways.

Mr. Cordingley reports that Japanese citizens are keeping a much closer eye on the origins of their food, and sees this as "a wise practice."

Read Effect of radiation on humans still harbors mysteries



soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Tom

    Food, not just that from Japan, has become increasingly risky stuff: antibiotics in beef from wherever, chemicals in Asian farmed fish, sprouts and green onions from the southwest that will send you to the smallest room in the house for days, if not to the E.R. or morgue,prewrapped roasts that smell like carrion when the generic saranwrap comes off.

    Now, when I buy meat, it is from local ranchers, organically raised. I gotta have my green stuff, but– taking a tip from the Asians who lived for centuries without refrigeration– I stir fry it. There are more dried beans and rice on the table than in years past. They, too, have the blessings of boiling water or steam before they go down the gullet.

    I can't give up the fish sauce, though; just don't think about what small creatures other than fish might have been in the vat.

    March 21, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Reply
  2. shawna

    Not eating food from the Gulf either. government lies to you about everything, including food 'safety.'

    March 21, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Reply
    • Sinister Sister

      Paranoid much? If the gov't lies to you, then you're NOT getting a tax refund check and Sarah Palin is (to quote a buddy of mine) a liberal stooge.

      March 21, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Reply
  3. smarty

    I don't even know what exactly we import from Japan and finding a list online is proving to be difficult.

    March 21, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Reply
  4. Robert

    Food coming into the US is already be irradiated against "the bad things" so what's the difference. You get more "radiation" from your local tanning salon table anyway....

    March 21, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Reply
  5. Sinnister Sister

    Since I can't be 100% sure that the importing and labeling laws in America are 100% fool proof, there is no way for me to tell 100% from where my food is coming. Since I've been surgically sterilized anyway, why worry about it?

    March 21, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Reply
  6. kitana

    ok so im donig a report about the radiation spill in japan and its BORING :)

    March 21, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Reply
  7. Cole

    I'm actually glad that the article brought up Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Everyone seems to have forgotten that 2 actual nuclear bombs set off over there didn't do anything to the California (or Hawaii) coast. Chernobyl... Looking pretty damn good these days. It's also worth noting that radioactive dyes are used in medical diagnosis.

    On the list of things that are bad of me, this doesn't even make the top 100. The great and constant irony in all this is how all the people who don't exercise are in a panic, all the while completely ignoring their biggest issue: Being inactive and taking on all the risks (which add up to being by far the biggest killer) that come with the problem.

    March 21, 2011 at 2:38 pm | Reply
  8. Tammy

    I for one will not be eating anything or purchasing any goods from that region for a very long time. Too many questions are unanswered and the ones that are answered are too vague. My heart goes out to them..such nuclear devastation should have never happened it should have been foreseen period.

    March 21, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Reply
  9. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    Given how little I eat that comes from Japan, I don't have any fear about it. It would be a once a month kind of thing in the first place. Besides, if we all eat a little bit, that spreads what ever little radiation around and limits the harm. This has not been validated by science. Besides, the radioactive material has a half life of some level.

    March 21, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Reply

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