A scare over radiation-tainted Japanese beef deepened Thursday with the number of cattle thought to have been contaminated and shipped around the country rising to nearly 1,500, reports said.
As many as 1,485 beef cattle in nine prefectures are thought to have been fed straw contaminated with radioactive cesium before being sent for slaughter and processing nationwide, the Yomiuri Shimbun said.
The straw contamination is a result of the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant and has been spread through trading of the tainted feed among farmers in regions beyond Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate, where the problem is believed to have originated.
Straw from Iwate Prefecture showed radioactive cesium readings 43 times the government limit, according to local authorities.
The animals had been shipped to 45 of Japan's 47 prefectures as of late Wednesday, according to tallies by Jiji Press and other media, and some of the meat has already been consumed.
The contamination surfaced earlier this month when elevated levels of radioactive cesium were found in beef from cattle shipped from a farm in Minamisoma, a city near the nuclear plant.
On Tuesday, the government banned shipments of Fukushima beef, four months after the March 11 quake and tsunami sparked reactor meltdowns at the nuclear plant.
Under fire for its handling of the quake aftermath, the government has faced accusations of negligence over its failure to establish centralized testing of farm produce, having lifted earlier bans on some items.
Tokyo, at pains to point out that standard servings of the radioactive meat pose no immediate health risk, has pledged to compensate farmers for losses as consumers rapidly lose faith in both the product and officials.
Municipalities, including areas in Tokyo, have said that the affected meat has already been used in school lunches and sold at stores.
The central government has banned shipment of certain vegetables, tea, milk and seafood from Fukushima and areas beyond including tea grown south of Tokyo.
But it has been criticized for its failure to instruct cattle farmers not to use hay that was contaminated after the disaster.© Agence France-Presse