December 2014 Update
As of November 10, 2014, monitoring efforts along the Pacific coast off the US and Canada by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute scientists detected small amounts of radioactivity from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant meltdown. The amount of cesium-134 detected was less than 2 Becquerels per cubic meter, which is many times lower than the 7,400 Becquerels per cubic meter maximum level set by US EPA for drinking water. The highest predictions for waters off the California coast are 30 Bq/m3. At such low levels, the radiation is not predicted to harm humans or the environment.
The most rigorous seawater sample testing is being done by a group of citizen scientists led by researchers from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Since the beginning of 2014, the group has collected and analyzed about 50 samples from coastal locations along the west coast, from California to Alaska. To date, none of the samples tested have been found to contain higher than trace levels of cesium.
A new collaborative monitoring effort in Canada called the Integrated Fukushima Ocean Radionuclide Monitoring (InFORM) project has included testing local species of fish for Fukushima-derived radiation. On December 1st, the group released results of tissue sampling of sockeye salmon and steelhead trout in northern British Columbia. The average amount of cesium-137 in the samples was 0.27 Bq/kg and the level of cesium-134 was below the detection limit of the analysis, indicating that consuming either species of fish is not a health risk. As a reminder, residual cesium-137 in the oceans is largely the result of nuclear weapons testing in the 1950s and 1960s. The group will publicly report the results of tissue sampling from 80 more fish tested as samples are analyzed.
In a Los Angeles Times article published on August 20, 2014, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute scientist Ken Buesseler used the following analogy to describe the human health implications of seawater containing 10 Bq/m3: “If you were to swim in that water 365 days, 6 hours a day, the does would be 500 times less than a single dental X-ray.”
FishWise is continuing to follow the status of the radioactive plume of seawater from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan and its potential to contaminate Pacific seafood. Based on the best scientific information available, consuming Pacific seafood is still safe. U.S. state and federal agencies continue to deliver the message that the levels of Fukushima-derived radiation are unlikely to cause significant harm to the public and the risks are small when compared to other things that threaten public health (e.g. smoking, air pollution, obesity, etc.).
Who is testing for radiation?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the primary federal agency responsible for testing food imported from Japan for radiation. The FDA is routinely tests for radionuclide contamination and monitors information and data from foreign governments and international organizations, including the Japanese government’s food sample testing program, the import sample testing programs of nations geographically close to Japan, and the Fukushima-related activities of international organizations like the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) (FDA 2014). In light of the information collected from these sources, in March 2014, the FDA released this update on its website:
To date, FDA has no evidence that radionuclides from the Fukushima incident are present in the U.S. food supply at levels that would pose a public health concern. This is true for both FDA-regulated food products imported from Japan and U.S. domestic food products, including seafood caught off the coast of the United States. Consequently, FDA is not advising consumers to alter their consumption of specific foods imported from Japan or domestically produced foods, including seafood. FDA continues to closely monitor the situation at and around the Fukushima Dai-ichi facility, as it has since the start of the incident and will coordinate with other Federal and state agencies as necessary, standing ready to take action if needed, to ensure the safety of food in the U.S. marketplace. (FDA 2014)
Import Alert #99-33 instructs FDA field personnel to detain shipments from Japan if the food is likely to contain radionuclide contamination. The FDA’s Import Alert #99-33 website contains a long list of seafood species from the Fukushima prefecture that the Japanese Prime Minister has ordered to be restricted from distribution into the export market, including:
Alaska Pollock, ayu, barfin flounder, black cow-tongue, black rockfish, braddblotched rockfish, brown hakeling, salmon (landlocked), common carp, conger eel, crucian carp, fat greenling, flathead, flathead flounder, fox jacopever, goldeye rockfish, gurnard, halfbeak, black porgy, dace, eel, sandlance, seabass, littlemouth flounder, long shanny, marbled flounder, nibe croaker, northern sea urchin, ocellate spot skate, olive flounder, pacific cod, panther puffer, poacher, red tongue sole, ridged-eye flounder, rockfish (sebastes cheni), sea raven, spotted halibut, slime flounder, spotted halibut, starspotted smooth-hound, starry flounder, stone flounder, surfperch, venus clam, whitespotted char. (FDA 2014)
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is monitoring levels of radiation in air and precipitation through its RadNet program (EPA 2013). Ocean monitoring of Fukushima radiation has received much less attention from U.S. government agencies. Neither the U.S. government nor the state of California has an ongoing testing program for Fukushima-derived radiation off of the California coast (California Coastal Commission 2014).
However, there is a volunteer radiation-monitoring project underway led by scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts. Our Radioactive Ocean is a program in which scientists and citizens can send samples of Pacific Ocean water to be analyzed for Fukushima-derived radiation at Woods Hole. To date, The Our Radioactive Ocean website was updated on June 2, 2014 with this statement:
So far, none of the seawater samples taken from the Pacific Coast have contained any trace of radiation from Fukushima. They have contained the same levels of radiation that were evident in the Pacific Ocean before the Fukushima accident. These levels of cesium-137 measured at all sites are between 1 and 2 Bequerels per cubic meter, and are from the 1960s atmospheric nuclear weapons testing programs. The lack of cesium-134, which only has a two-year half-life for radioactive decay, indicates that none of the Fukushima contaminants have reached the West Coast sampling sites. Therefore, continued support for monitoring is needed as the cesium isotopes are expected to reach the coast in 2014 and levels are predicted to increase over the coming 2-3 years. See more at: http://www.ourradioactiveocean.org/results.html#sthash.ScBxOzMU.dpuf (Our Radioactive Ocean 2014)
Kelp Watch 2014 is a project to determine possible radionuclide contamination of kelp forest ecosystems along the California coast by testing kelp samples in multiple locations along the west coast (Kelp Watch 2014). One of the main goals of the project is to soothe public anxiety about the severity of the radiation plume’s impact on coastal ecosystems. The researchers leading the project are confident that the radiation concentration found in kelp samples that will bioaccumulate in the food web that humans are part of will be so low as to pose no harm to human health (Samuel 2014).
Has the radiation from Fukushima arrived on the West Coast?
Since the disaster occurred in April 2011, a radioactive plume of contaminated seawater has been carried towards the west coast of North America by ocean currents. As of April 30, 2014, no Fukushima-derived cesium has been detected in seawater off the coasts of California, Oregon, or Washington (California Coastal Commission 2014). The leading edge of the radioactive plume appears to have recently reached Vancouver Island off of Canada, and could possibly reach California next year, although coastal upwelling could hold the plume at bay for several years (Rossi et al 2013). The peak concentration of Fukushima-derived radionuclides is anticipated to reach California between 2016 and 2019 and then gradually decline over the following decades (California Coastal Commission 2014).
Should we be worried?
The answer that scientists studying the issue have come to is no. Due to the rapid dilution of the radioactive seawater in the vast Pacific Ocean, the concentration of radionuclides from Fukushima is expected to be only slightly above pre-accident levels, and far below naturally occurring radioactive elements in the ocean (Buesseler 2014). Even the highest estimated levels of radioactivity are more than 400 times lower than levels of naturally-occurring radiation and represent only a tiny increase in total radioactivity above pre-accident levels (California Coastal Commission 2014).
Evidence for this can be found to the north of Hawaii and off the coast of British Columbia, where the low levels of cesium detected indicate that the level of exposure along the west coast will be low and marine organisms such as fish are extremely unlikely to accumulate dangerous quantities of radioactivity (California Coastal Commission 2014).
Is Pacific seafood contaminated?
Along the west coast of the United States, low levels of cesium radioisotopes from Fukushima have been found in Pacific bluefin (Madigan et al 2012) and albacore tunas (Neville et al 2014). In 2011, Madigan et al detected very low levels of Fukushima-derived cesium in highly migratory Pacific Bluefin tuna, which the researchers determined had accumulated in the tissue of the fish during the juvenile phase of their life cycles in the western Pacific (Madigan et al 2012). A follow-up study in 2012 found that radiocesium levels in Pacific bluefin had decreased by more than 50%, indicating that the concentration of radioactivity in the ocean from Fukushima is rapidly decreasing (Madigan et al 2013).
Using the same dataset as Madigan et al, Fisher et al concluded that a subsistence fisherman consuming only Pacific Bluefin tuna in amounts five times greater than the average total seafood consumption in the US would receive 0.1% more radiation than the normal annual radiation dose humans receive (Fisher et al 2013).
Some bottom dwelling fish such as flounder tested very close to the reactor off Japan have been found to have levels of radiation above Japanese regulatory limits, so eating those fish is not recommended. However, due to closures of fisheries in the areas near Fukushima and Japan’s strict limits for radiation in seafood, it is extremely unlikely those fish could make it to US markets (Buesseler 2014).
Short background on radiation in the ocean
The vast majority of radioactive particles in the ocean are there as a result of the weathering of rocks and the erosion of continental crust (Buesseler 2014). Until the Fukushima plant meltdown, the primary anthropogenic source of radiation was from fallout from nuclear weapons testing in the 1950’s and 1960’s and from Chernobyl fallout, to a lesser extent. Cesium-137 is the main radionuclide of concern following the Fukushima disaster due to its relatively long half-life (over 30 years) and potential to affect human health through bioaccumulation. Cesium-134 has a short half-life (two years) and therefore decays quickly, making it less of a threat. Both isotopes of cesium are highly soluble in ocean water, meaning that a radioactive plume of these particles quickly dilutes as a result of ocean current and mixing processes (Buesseler 2014).
Conclusion and Recommendations
FishWise maintains the same conclusion and set of recommendations from our last update in December 2013. There is no question that there are major concerns regarding the effects of radiation from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant on human health and the environment. However, the key results from these peer-reviewed studies and from the government tests have been misrepresented in the media and have led to the concern that seafood in the Pacific is contaminated from the Fukushima plant and unsafe to eat. While Japanese subsistence fishers may need to take caution, people in the U.S. eating seafood from the eastern Pacific do not need to spend too much time worrying. Based on the scientific information available, consuming Pacific seafood is safe. We will update our research on this situation as new information becomes available.
Buesseler, K.O (2014). Fukushima and ocean radioactivity. Oceanography 27(1): 92-105. http://dx.doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2014.02.
California Coastal Commission (2014). Report on the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Disaster and Radioactivity along the California Coast. 30 April 2014. California Coastal Commission: http://documents.coastal ca.gov/reports/2014/5/F10b-5-2014.pdf
Fisher, N.S., K. Beaugelin-Seiller, T.G. Hinton, Z. Baumann, D.J. Madigan, J. Garnier-Laplace (2013). Evaluation of radiation doses and associated risk from the Fukushima nuclear accident to marine biota and human consumers of seafood. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 110(26): 10670-10675.
Kelp Watch (2014): http://kelpwatch.berkeley.edu/home
Madigan, D.J., Z. Baumann, N.S. Fisher (2012). Pacific Bluefin tuna transport Fukushima-derived radionuclides from Japan to California. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 109(24): 9483-9486.
Madigan, D.J., Z. Baumann, O.E. Snodgrass, H.A. Ergül, H.Dewar, N.S. Fisher (2013). Radiocesium in Pacific Bluefin tuna Thunnus orientalis in 2012 validates new tracer technique. Environmental Science & Technology 47: 2287-2294.
Neville, D.R., A.J. Phillips, R.D. Brodeur, K.A. Higley (2014). Trace levels of Fukushima disaster radionuclides in East Pacific albacore. Environmental Science & Technology 48: 4739-4743.
Our Radioactive Ocean (2014). Available at: http://www.ourradioactiveocean.org/. Accessed on June 4, 2014. See also “Educate Yourself”, http://www.ourradioactiveocean.org/index.html#help.
Rossi, V., E. Van Sebille, A.S. Gupta, V. Garçon, M.H. England. (2013). Multi-decadal projections of surface and interior pathways of the Fukushima Cesium-137 radioactive plume. Deep-Sea Research I 80(2013): 37-46.
Samuel, M (2014). “New Fukushima radiation study will focus on west coast kelp forests.” 15 January 2014. KQED Science. http://blogs.kqed.org/science/2014/01/15/new-fukushima-radiation-study-will-focus-on-west-coast-kelp-forests/
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2014). RadNet Monitoring data. Available at: http://www.epa.gov/radnet/. Accessed on June 4, 2014. See also “Radiation in perspective”, http://www.epa.gov/radiation/understand/perspective.html
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (2014). FDA Response to the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Facility Incident. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/newsevents/publichealthfocus/ucm247403.htm. Accessed on June 4, 2014. See also “Import Alert 99-33”, http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/cms_ia/importalert_621.html
By: Alanna Gisondo
Most of us who work in the seafood sector are well aware that seafood fraud and mislabeling are two issues that have been commanding a lot of attention lately. In the past several years, we’ve seen investigative reports and academic studies address fraudulent seafood labeling in the U.S. marketplace and estimate rates at which it is occurring in retail stores and restaurants across the country.
So much attention in fact, President Obama recently issued a Presidential Memorandum that established a Presidential Task Force on Combatting Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing and Seafood Fraud.
All this attention around seafood mislabeling begs the question, “How much of our seafood is labeled correctly?”
It’s a question that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) set out to answer when they launched an investigation into seafood mislabeling back in 2012. The two-year extensive analysis included 700 DNA samples collected from the wholesale distribution chain (prior to retailers) across 14 states, and targeted seafood that is most often suspected of being mislabeled. And now, the results are in.
The FDA found that 85% of the seafood it tested was labeled correctly. What’s more, the FDA also found that mislabeling occurred most often in snappers and groupers, two species that constitute less than 2% of total seafood sales in the U.S. This mislabeling rate is lower than other mislabeling studies, which could be attributed to the sampling location of the wholesale distribution chain before the retailer. In studies by Oceana, mislabeling percentages were 18% at retail, 38% at restaurants, and 74% at sushi venues (though sample sizes for each differed). This may indicate that mislabeling is happening more frequently after the wholesale distribution chain and warrants further study.
The FDA’s recent findings provide additional insight into a confusing and frequently debated seafood issue, and indicate that seafood mislabeling is likely the most problematic within specific species groups of seafood (e.g. the snapper & grouper complexes), which other mislabeling studies have also found. With these new statistics, seafood businesses have a better understanding of the scope of the problem, where along the supply chain mislabeling is likely to occur, and which species complexes are most susceptible to mislabeling.
While the FDA’s study is encouraging, it does not mean that seafood mislabeling is no longer a serious problem. Seafood mislabeling is often associated with food safety and public health concerns, continues to generate media coverage, and poses serious challenges for businesses in meeting sustainable seafood policies and commitments.
The good news is that there is a suite of tools that can help to identify and reduce the risk of buying and selling mislabeled seafood. Businesses can help to ensure that products aren’t mislabeled by reviewing and improving their electronic data systems, verifying product claims via paper audits (aka tracebacks), conducting DNA testing of products of high-risk products, and implementing robust traceability policies that are communicated throughout the supply chain. Looking to different commodities —such as fair trade coffee and certified natural products— is also helpful in understanding how other sectors have innovated solutions to their own labeling challenges.
You can read more about the FDA study here.
By: Aurora Alifano
Labor and human rights violations in the global seafood industry have been documented for years. Media coverage of trafficked workers in Thailand has traditionally focused on the sex industry, but recent reports of shocking human rights and labor violations in Thailand's shrimp industry captured public notice. For the first time, the names of major retailers in the U.S. and Europe that sell Thai shrimp produced with human trafficking and forced labor were exposed by the Guardian in June 2014. International media outlets further broadcast the story, highlighting human rights violations in Thailand’s fisheries.
Less than a month after the investigation release, the U.S. State Department determined that that Thailand does not comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and that human rights violations within the fishing industry remain a problem, as outlined in the 2014 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report. Once again, Thailand made headlines when it was downgraded to Tier 3 in the 2014 TIP report, the lowest possible level.
Exposed companies addressed the media coverage by publically advertising their efforts to reduce and eliminate human trafficking and other labor violations in their supply chains. These problems were met with encouraging action by retailers. "We are committed to working with our suppliers of Thai shrimp to require them to take corrective action to police their feedstock sources with respect to poor labor practices," read one retailer’s initial statement. "This commitment so far has involved visits by our buying staff to Thailand and discussions with the Thai government, our suppliers, and other industry participants.”
How are sustainability certifications responding?
In response, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), a major seafood certification body, announced a new policy against forced labor in August 2014. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) stated, “MSC condemns the use of forced labor. Companies successfully prosecuted for forced labor violations shall be ineligible for MSC certification.”
Aquaculture certifications are also looking to address this issue. At the 2014 Global Outlook on Aquaculture Leadership (GOAL) conference, the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA), International Fishmeal and Fish Oil Organisation (IFFO), Lyons Seafoods Co. and Wm Morrison Supermarkets collectively agreed to a position statement addressing the social concerns related to aqua feed production. The statement affirmed, “It is essential that robust, comprehensive and socially responsible standards are implemented within aquaculture and its supply industries and that human rights are protected”.
Through the public statement, each party committed to supporting and promoting Fishery Improvement Projects (FIPs) that incorporate social standards and other programs based on the key elements of the ILO Work in Fishing Convention (ILO 188).
Seafish’s Responsible Fishing Scheme (RFS) recently updated fishing vessel standards with a focus on social and ethical criteria to prevent trafficked or bonded labor. It is widely accepted that fishing vessels operate at sea with limited monitoring and enforcement, and are often considered hazardous working environments. Workers can encounter a spectrum of issues ranging from extremely low wages, inadequate sanitation, lack of safety equipment, and long working hours to documented cases of forced labor, human trafficking and even murder (ILO 2013). Ongoing development of the RFS could offer a potential solution to address ethical issues on board fishing vessels.
Until international efforts can improve the monitoring and enforcement of social standards in the seafood industry, more stories linking seafood companies with products tainted by trafficking and forced labor are likely. Seafood businesses can promote the adoption of good labor practices by using their influence to proactively engage their supply chains.
When human rights and labor violations are featured in reports and globally broadcast in the media, the potential for hardened public attitudes toward seafood industry actors and impacts to seafood sales escalates. There will be continued reputational and financial risks to seafood businesses until serious progress on this topic has been made.
By: Kathleen Mullen-Ley
I recently had the pleasure of participating in a retail panel discussion at the Global Aquaculture Alliance’s (GAA) annual Global Outlook on Aquaculture Leadership (GOAL) conference in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
This year’s overarching theme was ‘Celebrating Leadership’ in acknowledgement of the challenges of responsible aquaculture and the need for collaboration to overcome those challenges. Being relatively new to field of responsible aquaculture, I took full advantage of the opportunity to learn from the industry experts, retailer and foodservice seafood buyers, investors, and academic researchers in attendance.
In my opinion, there are four main takeaways from the conference:
1. Early mortality syndrome (EMS) in farmed shrimp is still a major problem and seafood buyers should diversify their sources to minimize risk.
2. Zone management of farm clusters is a potential solution to the looming dilemma of how to develop the aquaculture industry responsibly.
3. Responsible feed production will require a shift from wild fish protein to alternative protein sources.
4. There is widespread acknowledgement that human rights abuses in the aquaculture industry are real and need to be addressed but there is uncertainty around how.
The first two takeaways are closely linked. Zone management was touted as an effective solution to fight EMS and prevent future aquaculture epidemics. Showing strong support for this view, the GAA announced the development of a fifth star in the Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) certification scheme for zone management. GAA was vague on the details of the standard, but seemed confident that it will be able to address a wide range of aquaculture challenges including disease management and engaging small-scale farmers.
The topic of responsible feed was the most divisive. Alternatives to wild fish protein are severely lacking. Soybeans, rendered animal products, and insects were discussed as alternatives, but none struck me as being both viable and responsible in the short term. The path forward appears to be a two-pronged approach of improving the reduction fisheries involved in fishmeal and fish oil production through improvement projects and continuing to research and develop alternatives.
The issue of human rights was clearly the newest and the most uncomfortable for conference attendees to discuss. Everyone passionately agreed that something must be done, but what and how? Fortunately, FishWise has been tracking the issue of human rights abuses in seafood supply chains for some time now and so I was able to make a valuable contribution to this area of discussion during the retail panel.
The retail panels were composed of representatives from the NGO community, major retailers, and seafood companies to give a breadth of views and experience. Despite having different backgrounds, the panel members were mostly in agreement on the challenges facing responsible aquaculture and the need for collaboration to overcome those challenges. On my retail panel, the most interesting part of the discussion was around how the recent revelations human rights abuses in seafood supply chains has changed how we think about sustainability. The uncomfortable truth is that we may have been calling some seafood ‘responsibly sourced’ despite being associated with egregious human rights abuses. Now that another (yes, this issue has been around for a while) clear link has been made between seafood production and social welfare, the definition of seafood sustainability can no longer be restricted to environmental standards. Figuring out how to address both environmental and social considerations in seafood production and improve traceability so sustainability claims can be verified is our revised challenge moving forward.
Should be easy, right?
Participating in a retail panel discussion at the GOAL conference in Vietnam was a fantastic experience. The GAA is already encouraging increased attendance by NGOs and retailers at the 2015 conference in Vancouver, so if you’re interested in attending next year, you already have a seat at the table.
A valuable new report released by the nonprofit Future of Fish last month highlights the business case for improved seafood supply-chain traceability and describes important technology considerations and third-party options available to the seafood industry. The report, entitled Getting There from Here: A Guide for Companies Implementing Seafood Supply-Chain Traceability Technology, was developed with input from technology vendors, NGOs, trade groups, and members of government agencies working on the issues of seafood traceability, mislabeling, and fisheries management.
This report makes three important contributions:
Firstly, it enumerates many reasons traceability technology systems can be very good investments for seafood companies – from their ability to create inventory management system and operational efficiencies, to their marketing, CSR, and brand loyalty benefits. Furthermore, the “Traceability Vendor Benefits Grid” (found in the appendix) critiques many existing traceability solutions, allowing business to assess which product might best fit their organization, existing challenges, and technologies.
Secondly, the report also includes a frank and informative discussion of the barriers faced by companies assessing technological tools to achieve interoperable whole-chain traceability. Many common concerns relating to new technology adoption (e.g. data security concerns and outdated data collection methods) and whole-chain traceability (e.g. lack of interoperability and uniform standards) are discussed alongside useful summaries of existing policy and certification standards.
Finally, the report describes key principles for the successful adoption and implementation of traceability improvements. Guidance on which traceability technology features might be considered essential versus “nice to have”, the benefits of building traceability into business plans and operational protocols, and the importance of trust building and data sharing among firms in the supply chain.
Given the growing pressure industry faces from government, consumer advocacy groups, and competitors to fight mislabeling and improve traceability, this new report is a valuable resource for seafood companies. The report also helps companies implement traceability improvements that not only reduce risk, but can enhance brand reputation and improve supply chain management.
- Restoring Wildlife May Help Stop Forced Labor and Human Trafficking
- Illegal Chinese Fishing Vessel Captured in International Enforcement Effort
- Fukushima Update No. 2: What you need to know about radiation in the Pacific
- Update on the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant: What you need to know about radiation in Pacific Seafood