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PRESS RELEASE, 20 September 2011

Setting official radiation value limits for foodstuffs does not offer enough health protection to the population

foodwatch and IPPNW Germany call for drastic improvement

After Fukushima:

Setting official radiation value limits for foodstuffs does not offer enough health protection to the population – foodwatch and IPPNW call for drastic improvement – a report on the risks to health from radioactively contaminated food

Berlin, 20 September 2011. Current radiation value limits for contaminated foodstuffs in the European Union and in Japan do not offer enough health protection since they permit the population to be unnecessarily exposed to high health risks. This is the conclusion reached in the report, Calculated Fatalities From Radiation: Officially Permissible Limits for Radioactively Contaminated Food in the European Union and Japan, released in Berlin today by the consumer advocacy organization foodwatch and the German Section of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW). The report is based on a study by Thomas Dersee und Sebastian Pflugbeil (German Society for Radiation Protection).

Foodwatch and IPPNW believe that the European Union, the German government and the Japanese government do not do enough to inform their citizens that there are no ‘safe’ maximum limits for the radioactive contamination of foodstuffs. Exposure to radiation, no matter how minimal, is a risk to health because it is enough to trigger major illnesses such as cancer.  The setting of any permissible limits is equivalent to making a decision on the number of fatalities to be tolerated. According to calculation models used by the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP), the European Union today accepts that current permissible value limits will lead to at least roughly 150,000 additional cancer deaths in Germany alone each year as a consequence of radiation exposure from food – under the theoretical assumption that the population has a dietary intake only of products contaminated to the maximum permissible limit. The consumption of food containing only 5 percent of permitted levels of contamination still means that at least 7,700 additional fatalities each year are tolerated in Germany.  Please note: foodwatch and the German Section of IPPNW have no information that highly contaminated foodstuffs from Japan currently are in the market in Europe.

Permissible limits today in the EU stand between 200 and 600 becquerels of cesium per kilogram of food. This is in stark contradiction to standards found in currently valid German legislation. The German Radiation Protection Ordinance governing the operation of nuclear power plants stipulates that total exposure for an individual may not exceed an effective annual dose of 1 mSv per year. In contrast, the EU radiation limits for foodstuffs tolerate an annual dose of at least 33 mSv for adults and 68 mSv for children and adolescents. In Belarus and Ukraine, countries severely affected by the Chernobyl disaster, permissible limits are much stricter than in the European Union – which means that foodstuffs which can no longer be marketed there because of their level of contamination can be legally sold in the EU.  

 Since there is enough food available which is far less radioactively contaminated, there is no need to expect people to eat highly contaminated products. For this reason, foodwatch and IPPNW are calling for a drastic lowering of the value limits from their present level of 370 becquerels (200 for imports from Japan) down to 8 becquerels of cesium per kilogram for baby food and milk products, and from the present level of 600 becquerels (currently 500 for imports from Japan) down to 16 becquerels of cesium per kilogram for all other foodstuffs.

These permissible limits are in line with the standards set in Germany’s Radiation Protection Ordinance applying to the discharge of radioactive materials from nuclear power plants via the exposure pathways of air or water, which are set at an effective dose of 0.3 mSv per year (assuming that the composition of radionuclides is the same as in fallout from Fukushima). In calling for this change, we know full well that allowing any permissible limits at all means that a certain number of people will be victims of radiation. This should be reason enough to question the continuing operation or new construction of nuclear facilities.

Thilo Bode, executive director of foodwatch, said, “Official permissible limits in the EU and Japan today are unacceptably high; they reflect commercial interests and expose the population unnecessarily to massive health risks. The precautionary principle and the right to physical integrity are anchored in fundamental European legislation, from which emerges the obligation to act on behalf of European policy. The EU must drastically reduce officially permissible limits to ensure an adequate level of protection for its citizens.” 

Pediatrician Dr. med. Winfrid Eisenberg (IPPNW) added: “Radioactivity affects living cells. Even the smallest doses of radiation can alter genetic information, harm the immune system, and cause cancer – this is especially true for children and adolescents. The younger a child is, the faster it grows and the more cell divisions take place, increasing the danger of radiation damage. An embryo is by far much more sensitive to radiation than anyone else. The EU’s radiation protection limits are irresponsible from a medical point of view.”

Foodwatch and the German Section of IPPNW strongly urge the Japanese government to substantially lower the permissible limit for the long-lived cesium isotope in food. Both organizations also urge that exposure to iodine-131 in food is deemed completely unacceptable. Given iodine-131’s relatively short half-life, people must not and should not be expected to eat food contaminated with this isotope. Many foods can be stored or frozen until iodine-131 has decayed and foods have become suitable for consumption again. 

In addition, there should be a uniform limit system that applies equally to normal and emergency situations. With the help of a regulation that has been lying in the drawer since the Chernobyl disaster, the European Commission can today tacitly put into force higher, in other words less stringent, value limits without any parliamentary control, in the event of another nuclear disaster, as was initially done after Fukushima.  

www.foodwatch.de; www.ippnw.de
Email action calling for lower value limits: www.foodwatch.de/aktion-strahlenschutz

Note from the editor:
To download the report, please go to: foodwatch.de/foodwatch/content/e10/e42688/e44884/e44993/CalculatedFatalitiesfromRadiation_Reportfoodwatch-IPPNW2011-09-20_ger.pdf

Background: foodwatch.de/foodwatch/content/e10/e42688/e44884/e45038/2011-09-20Backgroundfoodwatch_IPPNWStrahlenschutznachFukushima_EN_ger.pdf

Report in french: foodwatch.de/foodwatch/content/e10/e42688/e44884/e45039/radioactive_reportfoodwatch-IPPNW2011-09-20_ger.pdf

Press contacts:

foodwatch e.V.
Martin Rücker
Email: presse@foodwatch.de
Tel.: +49 (0)30 / 24 04 76 - 19
Fax: +49 (0)30 / 24 04 76 - 26 

German Section of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW)
Angelika Wilmen
Email: wilmen@ippnw.de
Tel.: +49 (0) 30 / 69 80 74 15
Mobil: +49 (0) 16 22 05 79 43