There isn’t a lot of faith in the food chain security. Given the repeated history of foodsubstitution scandals, it’s not surprising.[i] While I was in Akita, Hiro’s parents’ neighbour was saying that contaminated rice would be mixed with non contaminated rice and sold as safe. She had no evidence that it was actually happening, just based on previous experience of food safety cover ups it was a foregone conclusion. My guess is her sentiments are typical. But she also didn’t feel empowered to take any kind of action against it. It’s not surprising since contaminated soil was being shipped in on railway trucks… Assuming this is true, and it seems to be, the stupidity of the powers that be in staggering…. Why settle for one area with contamination when you can spread it across the country…. In the supermarkets, though vegetables are mostly clearly identified by origin, meat is now simply labelled as “kokusan” - domestic. The decision isn’t coming from the government level. People can’t have faith in food chain if information is obviously being withheld. People have the right to make their own decisions. It seems like a great pity for farmers from southern prefectures whose meat is being lumped in with the rest of Japan. The lack of information pushes many people to buy imported – despite the fact that US beef will almost certainly have been fed Hormone Growth Promotants… but that’s not on people’s radar.
Concern about radiation is quite rational but there is a lot of inconsistency in people’s concern about perceived risks. Peter Sandman has written extensively on the way that people perceive risk. His arguments hold true for Fukushima.[ii] On the one hand you get people fastidious about avoiding food from contaminated areas notably Fukushima, Miyagi, Iwate, Tochigi, Gunma, Ibaragi. Some people go as far as excluding Saitama and all of Tohoku. But at the same time people are still buying pre-cooked food from the supermarket and eating out where there are usually no labels for identifying where food comes from. People engage willingly in many kinds of risky habits – but as Peter Sandman would say – the fact that it’s voluntary makes a big difference. People smoke, eat tuna that hasn’t been tested for heavy metal residue, ride without bicycle helmets, talk on mobile phones, (do both at the same time), rush to get on the doors closing on trains, go rock fishing without life jackets, opt out of polio and other vaccinations, go skiing, allow themselves to become obese, don’t wash their hands after going to the toilet, drive cars, drink bicycle-ride ad infinitum. Obviously none of this changes the danger of radiation, but the point is people don’t act with the same attitude to risk, even with radiation.
Hiro & I are actually taking a pretty relaxed attitude to radiation and we haven’t changed our consumption habits at all. (something that will get approving nods of agreement from some and incredulous shaking of heads from others) Since I’ve lived in Japan I’ve had a preference for rice from Akita (Hiro's home prefecture which is one of the major rice producing areas), vegies from Tohoku – where possible (because Tohoku is by and large poor and needs the support), Japanese pork, Australian or Japanese beef (almost always Australian because of the price, never US beef which has hormone growth promotants in it). None of this has changed. It’s something I can justify with no sense that I am playing Russian roulette. The rationalisation is essentially twofold: I don’t see the risk as being particularly dangerous, and I want to support the local economies.