The meat of six cows shipped from a Fukushima Prefecture farm at the heart of growing concerns over beef containing traces of radioactive cesium has been distributed to at least nine prefectures, including Tokyo and Osaka, with some of it already eaten, officials of prefectural governments said Tuesday.
The cows ate the same straw at the farm in Minamisoma, a city near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, as another 11 cows that were shipped to a Tokyo meatpacking plant from the farm and whose meat was found to have contained three to six times the allowable level of the cesium.
Goshi Hosono, minister in charge of food safety and the ongoing nuclear crisis, sought to reassure the public, saying at a news conference, "Eating part of it in small amounts will not have a large impact on your health."
To counter a possible public backlash against all beef from Fukushima Prefecture, farm minister Michihiko Kano said the government will work with the prefectural government in inspecting for traces of radioactivity the meat from cows at all cattle-raising farms, or about 260 in all, in areas that are subject to resident evacuations of varying degrees.
Cows at the Minamisoma farm are believed to have been exposed to radiation internally because they were fed straw that contained radioactive cesium at levels far above the allowable limit, probably because it had been kept outdoors.
The farm shipped the six cows between May and June, according to the Tokyo metropolitan government. Their beef was distributed to five prefectures -- Tokyo, Kanagawa, Shizuoka, Osaka and Ehime -- from meat-packing plants in Tokyo and Tochigi. It was then distributed to dealers in Hokkaido and Aichi prefectures from Tokyo, and to dealers in Tokushima and Kochi prefectures from Ehime.
Excessive levels of radioactive cesium were found in the distributed beef kept at a restaurant in the city of Shizuoka and at a wholesaler in Tokyo, according to the officials.
Some of the beef from the cows was served to customers at a Korean-style barbeque restaurant in Aichi after it was shipped there on July 2, according to the prefectural government, adding that the beef had also been served at a restaurant in Chitose, Hokkaido.
The beef shipped to Ehime was not sold within the prefecture but was distributed to retail stores in Tokushima and Kochi, where it has already been sold, according to the officials.
On Monday, the Fukushima prefectural government began on-site inspections at farms in connection with the shipment case.
The beef from the 11 cows processed at the Tokyo plant has been found to contain excessive levels of rdioactive cesium and was not shipped to markets.
The straw at the farm in question contained radioactive cesium around 56 times the allowable limit. It had been stored in an unroofed area of the farm when a series of explosions occurred at the power plant shortly after the plant was hit by the earthquake and tsunami in March.