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USDA's Radiation Safety Questions and Answers

March 22, 2011

Should we be concerned about any food or produce being imported from Japan?

USDA does not believe there should be concern over imported USDA regulated products from Japan. Since April 21, 1010, Japan has not been eligible to export raw beef products, which have been the only USDA amenable products they have exported to the United States. That is when USDA issued an import alert that banned importation of commodities from Japan that could harbor Foot and Mouth Disease virus. Thus, Japan has not exported any beef products to the U.S. for nearly a year. Japan is not eligible to export any poultry products or processed egg products to the U.S. because USDA has not determined Japan to be equivalent in these two commodities. Monitoring of food and animal feeds for unsafe substances, including radiological materials, is a part of inspection procedures for commodities and conveyances entering the United States. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) maintains primary responsibility for ensuring the safety of food for human consumption (those commodities not under USDA authorities) and for animal feeds. Due to the heightened awareness of the current risk posed by the situation in Japan, it is unlikely that radiological substances would go undetected through this surveillance monitoring.

How do we know that food imported from another country isn't contaminated?

DHS' Customs and Border Protection is responsible for monitoring for the presence of radiological materials in cargo shipments coming into the United States at all U.S. ports of entry. This monitoring is a regular part of inspection procedures carried out at every port of entry nationwide. CBP maintains a workforce that inspects agricultural commodities that might pose a risk to the U.S. agricultural base. USDA provides technical support to CBP on agricultural trade and inspection procedures on imported commodities. FDA also maintains inspection workforces at ports of entry to ensure that food products imported into the United States are safe.

Are we taking any pro-active steps to make sure food we are importing was not exposed to radiation or products of livestock fed by feed exposed to radiation?

FDA retains primary responsibility for ensuring animal feeds are not contaminated with unsafe substances, including potential contamination by radiological materials. For animal feeds imported into the U.S., the FDA inspection force works closely with CBP at the ports of entry. USDA and its federal partners through the Food Emergency Response Network are preparing to begin sampling, if necessary.

How has this disaster affected U.S. exports of farm goods/products to Japan?

  • Japan is our 4th largest agricultural market with exports in fiscal year 2011 forecast at $13 billion. Top U.S. exports include corn, pork, soybeans and meal, wheat, and beef.
  • Japan is the largest importer of U.S. corn accounting for 15.2 million tons or 30 percent of total U.S. corn exports in 2009/10. U.S. corn represents about 95 percent of all imports by Japan and similar share of all corn use in Japan.
  • Japan relies heavily on imports to meet consumption needs with nearly 100 percent of corn use from imports, 47 percent of pork use from imports and 58 percent of beef use from imports.
  • Japan imported more than $50 billion in agricultural imports in 2010 with the United States as the largest suppliers at 28 percent, followed by China and Australia.
  • Japanese shipping companies have reported that a major disruption to grain trade is not expected as 12 ports handle bulk commodity shipments and only two are damaged.
  • However, many smaller ports in the Northeastern region are severely damaged.
  • Rice planting commences in May.
  • There are sufficient rice stocks that spread throughout the country.
  • There is no urgent need for rice imports.
  • Rice is the principal commodity grown in the affected region.
  • Salinization is likely to impact planting, but the area is insignificant in relation to total area/production.
  • There is more than enough land to compensate for any losses, as land set aside is nearly 30 percent of rice area.