Friday, April 15, 2011

Japan nuclear mishap: Just three labs accredited to test Japan food radiation in India

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad:  India has just three accredited laboratories to test radiation levels in food items and one of them is owned by the Central government.
These centres are located in Chennai, Mumbai and New Delhi and this makes it difficult for them to take up radiation tests in case of any untoward incident. There was only one such centre prior to the nuclear mishap in Japan on March 11. A week after the radiation leak, accreditation was given to two more laboratories taking the total number to three.
The infrastructure available in the country is hardly sufficient to deal with Japan-type mishaps. Since India is primarily an agriculture country, there's a need for regular tests for radiation levels. Any radiation leak will first impact the food crops.
"Unfortunately we do not have a transparent system in the country as far as nuclear energy is concerned. We do not know what quantity of food from Japan is being tested at these laboratories. We also do not know the outcome of such tests. The government has not come out with data on imported food stuff tested at these laboratories," said senior scientist K Babu Rao.
India imports processed seafood from Japan, besides pearls. Rice, however, is not imported as Indians do not like the Japanese variety, which is sticky. The need for more laboratories is felt after the three-month ban on imports from Japan was lifted a day after it was imposed. However, the food from Japan is to tested for radiation contamination before it is released into the market for public consumption.
Concerns for radiation contamination have grown after nuclear leakage into the sea. The Nuclear Power Corporation of India in its latest update on radiation contamination in Japan on Friday evening said radioactive iodine was detected in quantities 1.40 lakh times higher than the prescribed safety limit.
"Even the Food Safety Standards Authority of India, which is overseeing the safety of foods imported from Japan, in its advisory expressed concern that the lab testing standards in the country are not of adequate level. If such is the ground situation in the country, one can imagine the standards being followed in our laboratories. Radiation contaminated food will trigger mutations in the body. The presence of radio nuclei is more dangerous than the radiation itself," observed senior geneticist Dr MN Khaja.

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