Japan announced a plan Tuesday under which beef tainted with radiation from the Fukushima nuclear disaster will be bought up and burnt, in a move aimed at restoring consumer confidence.
Almost 3,000 cattle whose meat is feared to be contaminated with radioactive cesium have been shipped nationwide after being fed straw exposed to fallout during the more than four month old nuclear crisis.
Agriculture minister Michihiko Kano said the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), would ultimately have to pick up the bill, which media reports said may come to 2 billion yen.
"We are aiming to eradicate consumer worries and restore their confidence in beef," an official at the ministry's meat and poultry division told AFP.
Under the plan, meat industry groups are to purchase from member wholesalers and retailers all beef found to be contaminated with cesium above government-set limits.
Industry groups would need to borrow money from banks for the scheme, and the government-funded Agriculture and Livestock Industries Corp would help them pay interest to the banks, the ministry official said.
The industry groups would need to repay the money, but they are "expected to demand that Tokyo Electric Power, which caused the nuclear accident, compensate them for the purchasing and other costs," the official said.
The beef scare surfaced earlier this month when elevated levels of cesium were found in meat from cattle shipped from a farm in Minamisoma, a city just outside the no-go zone around the tsunami-hit nuclear plant.
In the widening scandal, it has since emerged that many more farmers in Fukushima and other prefectures have shipped cattle to meat-processing factories without realizing their beef may be tainted.
The government last week banned shipments of Fukushima beef, having earlier imposed similar measures for some vegetables, milk and seafood from Fukushima and areas beyond, also including green tea grown south of Tokyo.
Tokyo has been at pains to stress that standard servings of the radioactive meat pose no immediate health risk.© 2011 Agence France-Presse