Sushi & ?
Credit: rick (spine on flickr) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

CFIA stopped testing

imported foods - why?

On March 24th, 2014, Robson Fletcher, a senior reporter for Metro Calgary wrote an article titled Alberta student’s science project finds high radiation levels in grocery-store seafood.[1]

It sent chills up my spine.

Here's why:

Bronwyn Delacruz, a grade 10 Alberta student, decided to test for radiation in store-bought kelp, an ingredient commonly found in sushi. She found that products from China "lit up" her Geiger counter the most.

Delacuz reported, "Some of the kelp that I found was higher than what the International Atomic Energy Agency sets as radioactive contamination, which is 1,450 counts over a 10-minute period. Some of my samples came up as 1,700 or 1,800."

This brilliant young woman decided to conduct her own tests when she discovered that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) stopped testing for radiation in imported foods in 2012.[2]

I too am stunned by what I read on CFIA's website, given what we know about how long it takes radiation to climb (and concentrate more) as it travels up the food chain. Furthermore, the radioactive cesium-137 (released by the Fukushima disaster in 2011) is expected to reach US coastal waters early in 2014 and peak in 2016.[4]

Dr. Helen Caldicott Explains

How Radiation Increases with Every Species Along Our Food Chain (at 3:40):

Canadian Food Inspection Agency

Here is what CFIA's website states: 

Japan Nuclear Crisis: Information for Canadians Regarding Imported and Domestic Food

"More than 200 food samples were tested and all were found to be below Health Canada's actionable levels for radioactivity. As such, enhanced import controls have been lifted and no additional testing is planned."

The problem is that Health Canada's actionable levels are 10 times higher than in other countries (including Japan). I include a screenshot (taken July 21st, 2014) of this data from Health Canada's website next.

Further along, it says:

"CFIA continues to monitor events in Japan and assess any potential impacts on Canada's food supply. Canadian officials continue to collect and assess intelligence from Japanese officials, Canada's mission abroad and international authorities."

Japan passed a state secrecy bill[3] which was publicized November 26th, 2013. So this didn't reassure me at all to read:

"As well, Japanese controls on the sale of contaminated product remain intact."

If that is the case, why would products that are labelled "from China" be so high in radiation?

I Welcome Expert Opinions About These Levels

Health Canada: Canadian Guidelines for the Restriction of Radioactively Contaminated Food and Water Following a Nuclear Emergency
Credit: RoseWrites on InfoBarrel (Screenshot taken July 21st, 2014)

I'm Worried About Imported Food

Buckeye Village Giant Eagle
Credit: Nicholas Eckhart / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

How the Public is Led Astray

Simply put, we need to understand what Dr. Helen Caldicott has been emphasizing in her educational seminars and books:

"Although the Pacific is a huge body of water and the isotopes get diluted: the solution to pollution by dilution is fallacious when it comes to radiation because the radioactive isotopes re-concentrate by orders of magnitude in each step of the food chain." ~ Dr. Helen Caldicott

We are at the top of the food chain, so the radioactive isotopes will take time to climb up the food chain. Algae will concentrate them 1,000 times and so on (yes, it will get much worse).

Canada has universal healthcare - so this inherently makes me uncomfortable. I am reminded of what happened with thalidomide. Canada was the last country to end sales of the drug.[5] 
 
Recently, I read an article[6] which stated "radioactive cesium is so diluted by this point that it poses no danger."
 
This is precisely where the public is led astray.
 
Every time a radioctive particle is ingested by a living species and climbs up the food chain, the radioactive isotopes re-concentrate exponentially.
 
Want more proof?
 
After I wrote Fukushima 2014: A Global Crisis Without End for Environment 911 July 19th, 2014, I watched VICE correspondent Vikram Gandhi's documentary (shown next). At the 5:30 point, Dr. Joji Otaki shows the results of studying butterflies (which have a short lifespan). The effects of radiation over multiple generations were jaw dropping.

Worse Than Told Fukushima | VICE

by Vikram Gandhi

Bronwyn Delacruz has Inspired the Public

This young Canadian teen prompted a petition for congress in the US.[7] In Canada, Delacruz wants to alert lawmakers in Ottawa to urge the federal government to conduct more radiation testing on food. 

So far, I've seen no evidence of anything changing in Canada.

When I looked at the lessons learned from Chernobyl disaster[8] and the numerous facts that Dr. Helen Caldicott[9] has spelled out, I came to the conclusion that we must, as consumers monitor our own food (and water) sources.

Hey, Canadian Grocery Stores

If my favourite grocery store chain, Superstore[10] (which impressed me by eliminating traditional plastic bags) were to use Geiger-Muller or Plasma Mass Spectrometers to screen food prior to shelving it (and prove they were doing it with regularly calibrated instruments), I wouldn't shop anywhere else.

Until that time, I plan to purchase my own Geiger counter. In fact, I found the exact one that Bronwyn Delacruz is pictured holding in the Grande Prairie Daily Herald-Tribune.[11]

And here's the thing:

I look at every model and make of Geiger counter out there. Lots are manufactured overseas - and right now, I'm not feeling reassured enough to purchase an imported Geiger counter (even though they cost much less). 

The S.E. International Radiation Alert Inspector is manufactured in Tennessee by a small, woman-owned company. S.E. International, Inc.[12] makes the Geiger counter that Bronwyn Delacruz used for her project. Yeah, I'll pay a little more money for this one.

Radiation Alert Inspector USB Handheld Digital Radiation Detector with LCD Display

Radiation Alert Inspector USB Handheld Digital Radiation Detector with LCD Display RoseWrites 2014-07-21 5.0 0 5
5/5

Radiation Alert Inspector USB Handheld Digital Radiation Detector with LCD Display

Note: There is also a protective boot you can purchase.

Radiation Alert Inspector USB Handheld Digital Radiation Detector with LCD Display
Amazon Price: $575.00 Buy Now
(price as of Jun 3, 2015)
For over 40 years, S.E. International, Inc. has been the industry leader in radiation detection equipment for educational, medical, and environmental professionals. I'm thoroughly impressed that this model is optimized to detect small changes (low levels) in radiation and has a high sensitivity to common radioactive isotopes. The pancake style G-M tube (which provides a large surface area) makes it more accurate than other models.

July 22nd, 2014

I decided to send a copy of my article to the public relations department of Superstore and ask them what their feelings were. Here's what I wrote:

My name is Rose and I am a Canadian freelance writer. Today, I published an article on InfoBarrel [gave them the URL]. 
 
In it, I mentioned that if Superstore (which impressed me by eliminating traditional plastic bags) were to use Geiger counters to screen food prior to shelving it, I wouldn't shop anywhere else.

It's a long shot, but I'm writing to ask you for any commentary about this concern that many people in the medical and scientific community have about imported food in Canada. 

And with your express permission, I'd like to publish any response you provide in my article.

Loblaw Public Relations (LCL) responded:

Hi Rose,

Many thanks for your interest in Loblaw Companies Limited.

Given your questions are industry related, we recommend it is best to contact David Wilkes from the Grocery Division of Retail Council of Canada at dwilkes(at)retailcouncil dot org. He can provide you with an insightful industry perspective.

Regards,

Public Relations, Loblaw Companies Limited

(I was not provided with the name of anyone in their reply).

So, I Wrote to David Wilkes

Grocery Division of Retail Council of Canada

I let him know what Loblaw's public relations department wrote and I asked him the following:

1) Can you address the concerns that many people in the medical and scientific community have about imported food in Canada which may or may not contain radiation?

2) What is being done (at the retail level) to monitor imported food for radiation in Canada?

2) Since I have access to a Geiger counter, what should I do if I detect high levels of radiation in store-bought food?

Check back for updates, I will post his response here as soon as possible.

July 24th, 2014: No word from David Wilkes

But, the David Suzuki Foundation responded to me:

I've condensed the response I was sent today from a volunteer at the David Suzuki Foundation:

David Suzuki has written three Science Matters columns on this topic: Despite Fukushima, scientists say eating West Coast fish is safe,[13] Japan's crisis is another reason to look at energy use,[14] and How Citizen Scientists Can Fill in Information Gaps About Fukushima.[15]

David Suzuki’s articles summarize the credible scientific literature as it emerges. We have become aware, however, of a large gap between the public’s level of concern and the availability of actual radiation monitoring data from our coastal waters. In fact, no government agency in Canada or elsewhere in North America is monitoring the spread of the radioactive particles originating at Fukushima and arriving on our west coast.

This gap can lead people to search out non-credible sources of (mis)information. Scientists at the renowned Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) have now filled in the gap with a crowd sourced citizen science project called ‘Our Radioactive Ocean’. The David Suzuki Foundation is partnered with WHOI by supporting two sites engaged in seawater collection, sampling and analysis: one on Haida Gwaii and the other on Vancouver Island.  Results will be posted on the Our Radioactive Ocean website along with other updates about Fukushima.

I hope these resources are helpful to you. I’ll be checking back on your article to see what David Wilkes at the Grocery Division of the Retail Council of Canada has to say. We commend you for your research and published article! Continue sharing it, it’s so important for Canadians to be as aware as possible about what they could be consuming. Keep up the great work.

Naturally, I'm Thrilled to Hear Back

Yet, I had some issues with those articles:

So I wrote back to the David Suzuki Foundation:
 
Thank you for responding to my inquiry. So far, I haven't heard anything from David Wilkes (Grocery Division, Retail Council of Canada).
 
During my research, I did in fact read Dr. Suzuki's article titled "Despite Fukushima, scientists say eating West Coast fish is safe." I just finished reading the other two articles of his you sent to me. 
 
Naturally, I agree that we need to look at energy use. In fact, Ontario is the first region in North America to eliminate coal as an energy source (and ahead of schedule).[17] 
 
Now, for the nitty gritty (and I hope you'll forward my response to Dr. Suzuki).
 
I had a problem with Dr. Suzuki's "scientists say eating West Coast fish is safe" title since in it he wrote:
 
"While Health Canada monitors radionuclide levels in food sold in Canada." Where is this?
 
I only found evidence of Health Canada monitoring atmospheric radiation - namely Argon-41, Xenon-133 and Xenon-135, as well as combined external amounts from all sources measured as Total Air KERMA.[16] 
 
At the end, Dr. Suzuki states: "That doesn't mean it's unsafe to eat all fish caught on the Pacific West Coast. I'm taking a precautionary approach: fish will stay part of my diet, as long as they're caught locally and sustainably, and will remain so until new research gives me pause to reconsider."
 
The thing is, for the average Canadian reading the title of Dr. Suzuki's article Despite Fukushima, scientists say eating West Coast fish is safe it's interpreted as: "Scientists (many scientists - which aren't named in your article) say eating ALL West Coast fish (from anywhere) is safe."
 
Sorry, it's the truth. 
 
Most people don't have time to read the entire article to see the conditions you place on consuming fish, like "locally and sustainably caught." And who are these other scientists? 
 
On to the next article about citizen scientists. While I agree it's valuable to find out how radioactive our ocean is, I don't agree with this:
 
"the majority of the cesium-137 will remain in the North Pacific gyre -- a region of ocean that circulates slowly clockwise and has trapped debris in its center to form the 'Great Pacific Garbage Patch' -- and continue to be diluted..."
 
There is no such thing as diluting radioactive isotopes, particularly once they are consumed by aquatic life.
 
My other point is this - why test water? Why not start with plankton, algae, and work your way up the food chain since this is where mitosis will cause the isotopes to re-concentrate exponentially.
 
While these measurements in water are good to know, I feel that for human health, it's more important to monitor levels in aquatic plants and animals. And since fish and other marine life migrate, it's impossible to state that "debris like cesium-137 would remain trapped" in a certain area of the Pacific ocean.
 
Lastly, the sources I've sought out such as Dr. Helen Caldicott, Dr. Joji Otaki, and this brilliant teen Browyn Delacruz ARE credible sources of information. 
 
Ms. Delacruz tested over 300 seaweed samples (CFIA tested around 200). I'm sure you know about Dr. Caldicott's work (she won the Nobel Peace prize). Dr. Joji Otaki has found that butterflies were horribly affected by radiation in just two or three generations - they all died.
 
Those butterflies (which have a naturally short lifespan) represent humans in my mind.
 
The cautionary approach (which is what I feel is needed, since both the FDA and CFIA stopped looking for radiation in our food in 2012) is this: Don't eat anything imported from Japan, Asia, or anything from the Pacific ocean since the truth is we don't know whether it's safe or not.
 
With the utmost respect,
 
Rose Webster
Canadian freelance writer