Media watch: Radiation vs. rumors

Initially, when one of the largest earthquakes on record rocked Japan on 11 March, the safety of people in the fishing ports washed out by the 23-foot tsunami was seafood professionals’ only concern. But, once recovery efforts were under way, the discussion shifted to the possibility of radiation contaminating fish caught near the damaged nuclear power plants. And the mainstream media caught on.

However, most mainstream media outlets, including ABC News, are getting the story right, reporting that despite radiation leaking into waters adjacent to the nuclear power plants, particularly the Fukushima Daiichi facility, the health threat is minimal.

Mainstream media outlets are also reporting on how the crisis in Japan is affecting the U.S. seafood supply.

“Overseas orders have been slashed and prices on some fresh fish have fallen by half due to radioactivity concerns,” reported the Los Angeles Times. “Sushi bars normally packed with tourists have been half-empty … helpless against rumors that fish are racked with radiation.”

In the United States, consumers are stocking up on what’s left of Japanese fish like yellowtail. One retail manager in Tulsa, Okla., told that he hasn’t received a shipment of fish from Japan since the earthquake and doesn’t know when the next delivery will come.

In Philadelphia, Samuels & Son Seafood has temporarily halted imports from Japan, including hamachi (farmed yellowtail) and madai (sea bream), until the Japanese government and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are on the same page.

“It’s better to err on the side of caution,” Joe Lasprogata, the company’s director of purchasing, told SeafoodSource. “There is still demand. We tell them we understand, and it’s up to us to give them alternatives. As for as health organizations, Taiwan, South Korea and France are monitoring and testing products, as well our own FDA, and they have found no radiation.

“Food safety is the main concern, whether it’s out of Japan or out of the Gulf of Mexico [after last year’s oil spill]. That’s our first concern any time in a new situation and people are still determining what’s the best way to handle it,” said Lasprogata.

Lasprogata said his customers haven’t mentioned the radiation fears, which suggests that reality is winning out over rumors.
While consumers may still look at headlines and decide that it isn’t worth the risk, it doesn’t seem like the U.S. seafood industry will suffer. The main message being pushed out to consumers is that despite radiation leaks, the vast majority of seafood will be unaffected and safe to consume, although availability of seafood imported from Japan will not be able to keep up with demand until the country can steady itself again.

“We’re very anxious for the situation to be cleared up,” said Lasprogata. “I don’t know how you get back to normal after something like this, but we’re hoping to return to normal.”


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