Contaminated cow sparks more tests on Japan beef

A beef bowl restaurant employee serves stewed beef with steamed rice for evacuated people at a shelter in Kesennuma, Japan, March 21, 2011, 10 days after an earthquake and tsunami hit the country's northeastern coast.
AFP/Getty Images

TOKYO - Japan's health ministry says it has ordered more tests after a cow slaughtered for beef near the tsunami-stricken nuclear plant was found to have radioactive contamination slightly higher than the legal limit.

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Officials stressed that the meat was not ever put on the market. Contamination has already been found in vegetables and raw milk near the plant, which has been leaking radiation since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Ministry spokesman Taku Ohara says the cesium was found in a cow slaughtered March 15 more than 40 miles from the plant. People within a 12-mile radius have been evacuated.

The cow had a total cesium level of 510 becquerels per kilogram. The limit is 500. A person could eat beef with that level of contamination for decades without getting sick.

Radioactive cesium can build up in the body and high levels are thought to be a risk for various cancers. Still, researchers who studied Chernobyl could not find an increase in cancers that might be linked to cesium.

It is still found in the soil of Germany, Austria and France 25 years after Chernobyl and is found in wild boar in Germany, making the pigs off-limits for eating in many cases. The limit Germany has set for cesium in wild boars is 600 becquerels per kilogram.