TOKYO — Japan on Thursday lifted bans on beef from disaster-hit regions, a month after imposing restrictions over fears thousands of cattle had been contaminated in the Fukushima nuclear accident.
Bans on beef from Iwate, Fukushima and Tochigi prefectures were lifted after effective safety measures protecting livestock from contamination had been imposed, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said.
“This is a step taken after the safety management and shipment control systems were secured,” he told reporters.
Japan last week lifted a similar ban on beef from Miyagi prefecture, north of Fukushima, meaning all beef restrictions in the country have now been removed.
Local governments must now inspect all cattle before allowing the beef to be shipped to food markets, a farm official said. Only farmers whose cattle are confirmed to be safe can resume shipments.
Almost 3,000 cattle feared tainted with radioactive caesium were shipped nationwide, slaughtered and sold after the animals were fed rice straw exposed to fallout from the tsunami-triggered nuclear crisis.
Hay stored outside is thought to have been contaminated by radioactive materials spewed by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in the weeks after it was hit by reactor meltdowns following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
Fears over beef surfaced in July when elevated caesium levels were found in Tokyo in meat from cattle shipped from a farm in Minamisoma, a town just outside the no-go zone around the nuclear plant.
Affected animals had been sold since late March, with much of the meat eaten in restaurants and school canteens and at family dinner tables nationwide.
Tokyo was at pains to point out that standard servings of the meat posed no immediate health risk and pledged to compensate farmers for losses.
Under fire for its handling of the quake aftermath, the government has faced accusations of negligence over its failure to establish centralised testing of farm produce, instead relying on data from local authorities.
The beef restrictions followed bans on produce including some green vegetables, milk and dairy products, some river fish, mushrooms and green tea from some areas of Japan.
Tens of thousands of people have been forced to abandon homes, businesses and farms inside a 20 kilometre (12 mile) no-go area around the Fukushima plant, which has continued to release radiation into the air, soil and sea.
Embattled operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. faces massive compensation costs.