Japanese Tea and Radiation: Update

As many of you may know, the 2011 tea harvest is well underway in Japan. With the devastating effects of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which badly damaged Japan’s Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant, there has been a lot of speculation in the marketplace regarding the safety of Japanese tea. While much of the fearful chatter over irradiated Japanese products has subsided in recent weeks, concerns still abound.

Arbor Teas has begun to receive Japanese tea from the 2011 harvest. We’ve pulled together some important facts which we hope will help our customers understand the status of this issue (and, without diminishing the significance of this event, perhaps relieve some concerns).

1) No Japanese tea – either freshly picked or packaged – has been discovered to be contaminated by radioactive particles. (Update 6/1/11 – Unfortunately this is no longer true.  Radioactive cesium in newly harvested tea has been detected. Shipments of all the tea from the area were suspended pending additional tests. Please see comments below for more details.  We are working with our suppliers to have samples of their 2011 crop tested for radiation and will post them when available.)

2) Virtually all of Japan’s tea is grown at least 200 to 300 kilometers south of the radiation source. Tea grown in Kagoshima, the nation’s second largest growing region, is on the island of Kyushu, thousands of kilometers away from Fukushima – a distance equivalent to traveling from New York to Denver. Arbor Teas sources the majority of its Japanese tea from the Kagoshima Prefecture. Below, we’ve provided a list of the prefectures from which each of our Japanese teas originate:

Organic Bancha Green Tea — Kagoshima Prefecture
Organic Genmaicha Green Tea — Shizuoka prefecture
Organic Genmaicha Extra Green Tea – Kagoshima Prefecture
Organic Gyokuro Green Tea – Kagoshima Prefecture
Organic Houjicha Green Tea — Kagoshima Prefecture
Organic Kukicha Green Tea – Kagoshima Prefecture
Organic Matcha Green Tea – Aichi Prefecture
Organic Sencha Green Tea – Kagoshima Prefecture

3) The Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant is along Japan’s eastern seaboard. Prevailing winds blow east, pushing the fallout over the Pacific Ocean away from land and tea growing areas.

4) Japanese inspectors are testing foods at the source. Japan banned the export of any food products with unusually high readings, despite the fact that these readings are generally below health damaging thresholds. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported on April 27 that 39 food samples were tested by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare in late April from eight prefectures (Chiba, Fukushima, Gunma, Hokkaido, Ibaraki, Kanagawa, Niigata and Yamagata). According to the IAEA, “Analytical results for all of the samples of various vegetables, mushrooms, beef, seafood and raw unprocessed milk indicated that I-131, Cs-134 and Cs-137 were either not detected or were below the regulation values set by the Japanese authorities.”

5) The 2011 tea harvest is well underway, and processing facilities, port authorities and food inspectors in various importing countries are checking for radiation. Stocks of teas that were packaged and stored distant from the fallout zone have been checked.

6) Arbor Teas sells tea that is certified organic under the USDA National Organic Program, which requires far more testing and scrutiny than conventionally-produced tea.

Japan Map

Reference: World Tea News, April 25, 2011

May 16 2011 08:45 pm | Green Business and Miscellaneous and Tea and Health

23 Responses to “Japanese Tea and Radiation: Update”

  1. Bryan on 17 May 2011 at 8:07 am #

    Thank you for your thorough report. And for clarifying where each of your Japanese teas originate.

  2. chris on 31 May 2011 at 11:22 am #

    If they’re finding high radiation levels in California how can a distance of just 200-300km protect tea from radiation?

  3. Aubrey on 31 May 2011 at 9:01 pm #

    Thanks for the comment Chris. Radiation can be a very tricky thing as “radiation fallout” literally falls from the sky which can result in spotty radiation levels that are dependent upon weather conditions to move the radiation in the atmosphere. It is not something that is distributed evenly. Remember, the majority of the tea growing areas are in the opposite direction of the prevailing winds which take the radiation out over the ocean away from Japan. Of course, higher levels of radiation can occur anywhere and just recently officials did find radioactive cesium in newly harvested tea in the Kanagawa Prefecture 280 km southwest of the Fukushima nuclear reactor. Shipments of all the tea from the area were suspended pending additional tests. We are working with our suppliers to have samples of the 2011 crop tested for radiation and will post them when available. We do not carry tea from the Kanagawa Prefecture.

  4. Jay on 01 Jun 2011 at 2:15 pm #

    This is from Yuuki-cha.com website:

    “FYI, radiation tests were conducted on green tea (not ours) in Shizuoka Prefecture. All teas they have tested so far from Shizuoka have shown up detectable levels of cesium. You can review the published official results on The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare of Japan website here:

    16th of May (Record No’s.21-26)
    14th of May (Record No’s.68-80)
    13th of May (Record No’s.10-20)
    11th of May (Record No’s.41-43)

    Due to these results we feel it is best to refrain from beginning to ship any 2011 harvest Shizuoka teas to our customers until we can confirm the safety of the actual Shiuzoka green teas that we sell. Therefore, we will not be able to ship 2011 Shizuoka Shincha as planned.”

    In addition, the same data source (Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare) shows radioactive iodine and cesium specifically in tea on May 27 (Record No’s.41-45).

  5. Jay on 01 Jun 2011 at 2:22 pm #

    Also in Kanagawa Prefecture (between Tokyo and Shizuoka):

    http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/breaking-news/japan-recalls-tea-over-radiation-fears/story-e6frf7jx-1226054863906

  6. Aubrey on 02 Jun 2011 at 12:20 pm #

    Thanks Jay for the additional info. For those of you who would like to view the results mentioned in Jay’s comment, please see the link below to Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. (Jay – your link did not come through)

    http://www.mhlw.go.jp/english/topics/2011eq/index.html

    Note: levels over 500 Bq/kg exceed action levels set by the MHLW for withdrawal from markets

  7. Marcia on 19 Jul 2011 at 2:15 pm #

    I’ve heard that they have raised the acceptable level of what is considered safe for radiation. Is this true?

  8. Aubrey on 19 Jul 2011 at 2:46 pm #

    Marcia-

    I have not heard that information. I believe Japan still considers any food with a cesium reading above 500 Becquerel’s per kg (Bq/kg) as unsafe. In contrast, the US Food and Drug Administration sets an intervention level of 1200 bq/kg becquerels per kilogram for cesium.

  9. Jake on 15 Aug 2011 at 9:39 pm #

    CNN provides the latest update on the spreading green tea contamination here: http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/asiapcf/06/17/japan.green.tea/index.html

  10. Michael on 12 Sep 2011 at 11:47 am #

    The radiation problem is not just limited to Japan. This is a global problem. As the famous Japanese American physicist, Michio Kaku, already noted, that we all have a part of Chernobyl inside of us, and seeing the significant amount of radioactive materials that Fukushima put out we have no choice but to assume that it’s actually many times worse than Chernobyl when it comes to global contamination.

  11. Donn Griffith on 26 Sep 2011 at 2:37 pm #

    I think it is great that you are on top of this problem. Japan seems to take care of itself without demanding handouts from the rest of the world. Great polite smart people those Japanese.

  12. Margie Allen on 16 Jul 2012 at 3:07 pm #

    Aubrey — I’m curious whether there has been any recent information regarding radiation testing and levels of the 2011 crop of Japanese green tea; or 2012 if that is being distributed. Thank you.

  13. Aubrey on 24 Jul 2012 at 10:32 am #

    Hi Margie -

    Thanks for the comments. Yes, radiation testing continues into 2012. The Japanese Government regulations have changed a bit for tea as of April 1, 2012. The previous Japanese guideline was set at a maximum of 500 bq/kg for the total concentration of CS-131 and CS-134. The new regulations, as of April 1, changed that concentration to 100 bq/kg. There has been some controversy around this new regulation because it also changes the way the radiation is tested. The previous regulations tested the dry tea leaf, whereas the new regulations test the brew from the tea leaf. Some argue that this new regulation is more closely aligned with what the consumer will actually experience and, while the new regulations appear “lower”, they are the same. Others argue that the new “lower” regulations make the Japanese government appear as if they are becoming more strict, when they are really changing the testing environment completely (by changing from dry leaf to brew) in order to lessen the strictness. Whichever way you cut it, the Japanese guidelines are still much stricter than the US and European guidelines. For testing dry leaf, the United States guideline is 1,200 bq/kg while the EU guideline is 1,000 bq/kg (compared to the Japan guideline 500 bq/kg). Japan is also still posting all the test results in English at: http://www.mhlw.go.jp/english/topics/2011eq/index.html

    Additionally, Arbor Teas continues to work with our tea gardens to test our Japanese Green Tea by an independent third party and the results have returned very low or undetected.

    Aubrey
    Arbor Teas

  14. Joanne Hunter on 04 Nov 2012 at 4:20 pm #

    So, is Genmaicha tea safe to order from you now? I think your reporting is very thorough, I am just having a problem discerning a definitive answer. Do the levels of acceptable radiation from Japan match those of the United States?

  15. Aubrey on 07 Nov 2012 at 3:02 pm #

    Hi Joanne -

    As of now (Nov 2012), Arbor Teas is still selling Organic Genmaicha Green Tea from pre-earthquake harvests as we continue to try to find an equivalent alternative from a new source. All of our other Japanese teas are from post-earthquake harvests. Additionally, the Japanese testing standards for acceptable levels of radiation are actually more strict than USA standards.

    Aubrey
    Arbor Teas

  16. Paul Cristo on 15 Jun 2013 at 1:50 pm #

    Hello. I am a very satisfied drinker of your gyokuro and have been for a while. I wanted to check in to see if you were still checking your crops of gyokuro for high levels of radiation or if that is even a concern at this point.

    Also, does the fact that the tea is organic also mean it is further tested for these types of things?

    Thank you!

  17. Aubrey on 17 Jun 2013 at 3:28 pm #

    HI Paul -

    Thank you for the comment and question. Yes, samples from the 2013 crop continue to be tested for radiation and we plan to request radiation results for several years to come. The organic certification does work in our favor too. Because organic agriculture has more rigorous testing standards and more testing touch points, I believe potential problems have a greater likelihood of being found. It is yet another step in the right direction.

    Aubrey
    Arbor Teas

  18. Stephanie on 28 Aug 2013 at 6:58 am #

    In reference to the above question, are you finding any elevated levels, especially from the Shizuoka prefecture? Thank you

  19. Aubrey on 28 Aug 2013 at 2:21 pm #

    HI Stephanie -

    Thank you for the email. Unfortunately, our pre-Fukushima Genmaicha is no longer available. We are sold out. However, we began to source our new Organic Genmaicha from Kyoto. Because we changed tea gardens, I do not know the current status of tea from the Shizuoka prefecture. However, you can find up-to-date levels of radioactive contaminants in foods tested in respective prefectures at: http://www.mhlw.go.jp/english/topics/2011eq/index.html

  20. Tom on 10 Oct 2013 at 2:29 pm #

    In Nov. 2013 there will be an attempt to remove some of the radioactive rods from the nuclear plant at Fukushima. That process comes with great risks and the potential for further contamination is great. We’ll all have to stay informed about this. I am extremely skeptical of reports that downplay the significance of the extent of the contamination, especially since Pacific Ocean currents in general flow towards the west coast of the U.S. mainland. Should we be checking for radiation levels in wild caught Alaskan salmon? That day may be coming. How unfortunate!

  21. Rebecca on 29 Dec 2013 at 5:32 am #

    There are so many nuclear reactors around the world, many with more nuclear fuel rods in them than Fukushima, with NO WAY of getting rid of that nuclear spent fuel that’s piling up. There’s been massive natural disasters throughout this planet’s existence, and they’re not going to stop, so all of this fuel is in danger. I cannot believe they are pushing to make more reactors! This tragedy for Japan (& the world) is still unfolding, and I hope that Japan, with all it’s brilliance and wonderful minds, will take the lead in ridding the planet of this very real threat to life on earth. That is something worth living & fighting for.

  22. Tarun on 11 Mar 2014 at 3:49 am #

    Hi, I was wondering if there’s an update on radioactivity levels in Sencha from Kagoshima?

  23. Aubrey on 14 Mar 2014 at 1:02 pm #

    Hi Tarun -

    Thanks for the comment. We are not sourcing Organic Sencha from the 2014 crop yet, but we do have results from the latest testing in early December 2013. The radiation tests of samples from the organic leaf we source from Kagoshima returned “undetected” (or less than 1 bq/kg) for I-131, Cs-134, and Cs-137.

    Aubrey
    Arbor Teas

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