Radioactive cesium found in Meiji baby formula
Radioactive cesium of up to 30.8 becquerels per kilogram has been found in infant formula produced and sold by Meiji Co, the food company said on Tuesday [6 Dec 2011], citing an internal examination.

The company suspects a link with the radioactive leaks from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant damaged by the 11 Mar 2011 earthquake and tsunami, saying ingredients for its Meiji Step milk powder may have come into contact with airborne radioactive cesium when they were being dried at a plant in Kasukabe, Saitama Prefecture, between 14 and 20 Mar 2011.

Radioactive cesium has been found in baby formula for the 1st time since the March 2011 disaster, prompting the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry to begin looking into the matter.

The levels of cesium-134 and cesium-137 contained in the product remain below the government-set allowable limit of 200 becquerels per kilogram. A radiation expert said the reading was not at levels that would have an immediate impact on human health.

The company nonetheless plans to offer customers free replacements, affecting around 400 000 850-gram cans of the Meiji Step formula.

Amid concern that babies are more susceptible to the harmful effects of radioactive materials than adults, the ministry has planned to set a new limit for food products for babies.

The company will offer replacement products for batches with recommended consumption dates of Oct 3, 4, 5, 6, 21, 22, 23, and 24 next year [2012], according to the manufacturer. The dates are printed on the bottom of the cans.

Of the 23 samples with recommended consumption dates ranging from September to November 2012, 4 contained radioactive cesium of between 21.5 and 30.8 becquerels per kg.

The formula in question came from milk produced before the March 2011 disaster, according to the company.

"Because the cesium is diluted to 3 to 4 becquerels (per kg) when the powders are added to hot water, we don't think it will have an impact on health. But we still want to address the anxieties of those who bought the product by providing replacements," a public relations official of the company said.

The examination was conducted after a civic group in Nihonmatsu, Fukushima Prefecture, found radioactive cesium in the company's infant formula in a test late last month [November 2011] and asked Meiji to conduct a similar test.

When the health ministry examined 25 infant formula samples from multiple manufacturers, including Meiji, between July and August 2011, the cesium level in each sample was below the minimum detectable limit of 5 becquerels per kg.

Meiji commands a leading share of roughly 40 per cent in domestic baby formula sales. The same product has been exported to Viet Nam under a different name.

Meanwhile, Meiji's Chinese unit said Tuesday [6 Dec 2011] infant formula sold in China does not pose a safety risk as it has been produced in Australia.