High Radiation in Japanese Fish Raises Concerns

VIDEO: Nuclear fuel blown a mile from the reactors, radioactive seawater spreads.
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Are you green around the gills with Monday's news that Japan's Tokyo Electric Power Co. is dumping tons of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean? Experts say there's no need for worry--at least for now.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it will require seafood imported from Japan to be checked for radiation before it enters the food supply. But even with the new screenings, no one in the U.S. government is saying "stop eating tuna."

"Other food products from this area, including seafood, although not subject to the Import Alert, will be diverted for testing by FDA before they can enter the food supply," the FDA said in a prepared statement. "FDA will also be monitoring and testing food products, including seafood, from other areas of Japan as appropriate."

More specifically, an FDA spokesperson told ABC News that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement "is screening everything from Japan." However, screening does not entail testing all the seafood. all the testing of the seafood. In fact, the FDA inspects less than 2 percent of seafood, according to Winona Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch.

"FDA couldn't possibly with existing staff test all of the food that's being imported," Hauter said. "They inspect less than 2 percent of seafood. Their resources are really stretched."

Since screening, the FDA confirmed finding three food products from Japan that contained radioactive isotopes, although they were "all too low to cause adverse events."

So far, the FDA said that every piece of seafood that has been imported to the United States is safe.

Offshore from the Fukushima plant, the seawater is now testing at levels off the charts -- 7.5 million times more radioactive than the legal limit.

"I can't go out to fish because of the radiation," one Japanese fisherman told ABC News. "I cannot do anything."

But another fisherman said it was a "bad rumor" that the fish was unsafe to eat.

"The fish are totally fine, I believe," he said.

Because of the elevated levels, the Japanese government also announced on Tuesday that it will, for the first time, enact radiation safety standards for fish.

"We're deeply sorry for discharging the radiated water," said Japan's chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano on Monday, "but it was necessary to prevent spreading higher radiated water into the ocean."

Radiation Levels in Offshore Fish

Even though radiation levels become diluted in large bodies of water, officials tested a sample of sand lance fish, often used for bait, and found that the species contained nearly double the levels of iodine 131 and cesium 137. The new regulation caps fish radiation levels at the same amount as vegetables—up to 2,000 bequerels of iodine 131 per kilogram.

Edano said that government will strictly monitor the seafood and move forward after officials understand the full impact of the dumping.

Japan exported about $557 million in food and agriculture products to the U.S. in 2010, and an additional $235 million in seafood. The top imports are snack foods, scallops, wine and beer, processed fruit and vegetables, herbal tea, vegetable oils, and coffee.

But in comparison with other major exporting countries, the amount Japan sends to the United States is relatively small. Less than 4 percent of all American food imports come from Japan and less than 1 percent of the total fish Americans consume comes from Japan, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

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