Tuesday, April 05, 2011


Locavore’s dilemma: eat local or eat safe?

by Larry Geller

Our government continues to assure us that radiation levels in Hawaii and on the Continent are perfectly safe, and that they are monitoring them. We are not to worry here about the effects of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, which could go on for months or longer. It’s ok, they say.

What they talk about, and what news media report, is the radiation impinging on us. We’re told that it is nothing like getting a CT scan, for example, so there’s nothing to worry about.

Unfortunately, what we need to worry about is fallout settling on our crops, getting into our milk and other food products. Even fish may not be safe to eat, depending on what happens to the highly radioactive water being discharged in frighteningly large amounts directly into the ocean near the broken nuclear plants.

The danger is not that the fish on your plate or the glass of milk on your table will give you an x-ray as you sit down to eat. It is in the eating of these foods. Then the radiation is inside you, and that’s a danger even in small amounts. Your thyroid can be radiated by iodine-131 over a long period of time, even as your TV tells you there is nothing to be concerned about.

Can we safely choose to eat locally if our food is contaminated?

We’re not there yet. Of course, that will b the question that consumers all across the country will be asking if crops become tainted with fallout. Our agriculture is based on large-scale commercial monoculture farms. If one is hit, that entire crop is affected, and consumers across the country would have to do without.

Should lettuce in Monterrey, California, become radioactive, much of America will have to give up lettuce.

We’ll look more favorably on the imported boxes of veggies from Chile, or from places not yet affected by fallout.

“Eating local,” along with “sustainable agriculture,” may become impossible in Hawaii.

No one can predict what will happen as efforts to bring the situation in Japan under control continue. We hope for the best, of course.

At the same time, we need honest assessments of risk from our government. Measurements need to be taken not only from the rooftop of the Department of Health, but from the food products on sale in the markets. Vigilance needs to be on-going.

The danger of inhaled particles

Despite the tireless work of advocates, the issue of depleted uranium in Hawaii has not gained traction in the media. Monitoring has not been carried out that carries an assurance of safety. Again, it seems that our government is not interested first and foremost in the health of its citizens. Hawaii’s Department of Health does not have a great track record in safeguarding our health, go figure.

And again, the risk is not that depleted uranium dust will give us x-rays, but that particles could be blown in the wind or converted into aerosols, and inhaled into human lungs. Even a single particle in a lung will cause cancer, as it sits there emitting high-energy alpha particles. Surrounding tissue absorbs and is damaged by the radiation. Then one day it gets you.

Why should we have faith that our government will monitor the safety of our food supply when it has refused to deal with potential radiation hazards up to this time? That’s the connection between the depleted uranium issue and the nuclear plant issue.

It may be better if we can somehow fund independent monitoring to safeguard our health.

Yes, privatize a government function.  I never thought I’d hear myself say that. On the other hand, I never thought that “eating locally” could be a bad thing either.  We’re not there yet, but it’s time to consider a plan of action to safeguard ourselves and our economy.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons license.


Wow, that was a whole lot to swallow. I wouldn't trust privatized monitoring either. We let the drug companies monitor themselves, we let the nuclear industry monitor themselves, we let the oil companies monitor themselves and the results have always been the same. They put profits before safety. We are going to have to trust someone and I would rather trust a government technician to do the monitoring. With the budget cuts though we can't even monitor the mosquito problem. This pretty much falls back on us to call our Representatives and let them know we want radiation levels checked for the sake of our children.

I didn't mean that the utilities or industry people should monitor themselves. What I meant to say was that there should be independent monitoring. That would have to be paid for by someone, so yes, we could call our representatives. My guess is that they would defer to the Department of Health. As to getting money out of the legislature, it would be unusual for them to, on their own account, force money on the DOH to do something. So there needs to be citizen pressure. That's not happening yet.

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