Concerns over consumption of milk and meat contaminated with radioactivity have prompted the farm ministry to plan a zone where cattle and dairy cows will be prohibited from grazing and feeding on the grass, sources said.
Radioactive materials at levels far higher than safety standards for grazing have been detected in checks of grass in some parts of Fukushima and Chiba prefectures.
Farmers in the envisaged zone will be required to give imported feed or grass cut and stored before the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant triggered by the March 11 quake and tsunami.
"Emergency imports of grass may become necessary" following the establishment of the no-grazing zone, said an official with the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
Farmers raise cows and cattle by allowing them to graze or by feeding them in stalls.
If the amount of radioactive substances in grass and meadows was found to exceed the permissible level, prefectural officials will instruct farmers to halt grazing and the feeding of grass.
Violators will not be subject to penalties, however.
The farm ministry also believes farmers will be eligible to request compensation for import costs and other expenses.
According to the farm ministry, radioactive iodine is quick to enter the milk of dairy cows that feed in contaminated pastures.
Radioactive iodine does not pose a serious problem because it has a short half life.
But radioactive cesium is deposited in the animals' muscles and has a half life of 30 years.
Farmers in several prefectures, including Fukushima, Ibaraki and Chiba, have refrained from putting out cows and cattle to graze since it was reported last month that radioactive materials were detected in raw milk kept in Fukushima Prefecture.
So far, no checks, however, have detected radioactive cesium exceeding the safety limits in beef.
Citing concern over possible contamination, the agriculture ministry asked the Tokyo metropolitan government and 15 other prefectural governments in the Tohoku and Kanto regions in northeastern Japan to conduct studies of possible contamination of radioactive substances in grass and meadows.
According to findings of the Fukushima prefectural government, one such study, released April 30, reported that all the readings of radioactive materials in samples taken at seven test sites exceeded the ministry-designated permissible levels.
In Soma city, radioactive cesium was about 30 times the level considered safe.
Chiba Prefecture said in its report on April 28 that the readings of both radioactive iodine and radioactive cesium were more than three times the safety standards.
The rest of the prefectural governments are expected to complete their checks by the middle of this month.
The ministry set safety limits last month of radioactive iodine at 70 becquerels per 1 kilogram of grass and radioactive cesium at 300 becquerels per 1 kilogram of grass for dairy cows.
As for cattle, the only standard established was radioactive cesium, which was 300 becquerels.
The ministry said it based its figures on data from the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Such standards were set for dairy cows and cattle ahead of other domestic animals because they are raised in many places and produce highly lucrative products.
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