Japanese firm recalls tainted baby milk

Affected formula contains traces of radiation from Fukushima plant, but manufacturer says levels within safety limits.

Fukushima plant
Scientists say radiation continues to leak from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant even after the March earthquake

A major Japanese food manufacturer is recalling 400,000 cans of powdered milk for infants after traces of radiation from Japan’s damaged nuclear plant were detected in the formula.

Meiji said on Wednesday it did not know how many of the cans had reached consumers, but acknowledged that it was being deluged with queries from worried buyers.

The affected milk was manufactured in March and April, and was shipped from July with an October 2012 expiration date, it said.

Levels of radioactive cesium detected were well below government-set safety limits and were low enough not to have any effect on infants’ health even if they drank the formula every day, the company said.

The levels of cesium-134 and cesium-137 in the milk were up to 31 becquerels per kilogram, which is below the government limit of 200 becquerels per kilogram set for milk.

“We are exchanging it so that people can feel their infants are safe,” Meiji said in a statement.

Experts say children are more at risk than adults of getting cancer and other illnesses from radiation exposure.

“There is no problem because the levels are within the government limit,” Kazuhiko Tsurumi, a health ministry official in charge of food safety, said of the radiation in Meiji milk.

Radiation fears

The March 11 earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan sent three reactors into meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, leaking radiation into the air and ocean.

Some of that radiation has been detected in food such as rice, fish and beef, but this was the first time radiation was reported in baby formula.

Airborne radioactive cesium contaminated milk as it was being dried at a plant in Saitama prefecture in March, according to Meiji, which has the top market share in Japan in baby formula sales.

It also exports baby milk to Vietnam under a different name, but none of the milk in question was exported to that country, Masanobu Nakamura, a company spokesman, said.

The milk used to make the formula was mostly imported, from Australia and elsewhere. But a small portion of milk from Japan was also used – all from northern Hokkaido farms outside areas with radiation contamination risk.

The government has been reviewing its food safety and other radiation standards because some of them were not clearly defined before the nuclear crisis.

Not all food samples are monitored for radiation, and readings have been voluntarily reported by the manufacturers, including the latest by Meiji.

But many consumers remain worried. Some stores are labeling where food was grown or caught, allowing shoppers to opt for imports or products from parts of the country deemed safe.

Source: News Agencies