Tokyo: Japan widened a ban on beef shipments to a second tsunami-hit region on Thursday, citing elevated radiation levels in the meat of animals because of the ongoing Fukushima nuclear crisis.
Almost 3,000 cattle feared contaminated with caesium have been shipped nationwide and slaughtered after the animals were fed rice straw exposed to fallout from the more than four-month-old nuclear crisis.
After banning sales of cattle from Fukushima prefecture last week, the government extended the order to neighbouring Miyagi prefecture, where at least six contaminated animals have been identified.
The new order was announced by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano.
"We will continue gathering information and conducting surveys as thoroughly as ever from a safety standpoint," the top government spokesman said about the possibility of the ban being further expanded to other areas.
Contaminated animals have been sold since late March, weeks after the quake-tsunami sparked the nuclear accident, and much of the meat has been eaten in restaurants and school canteens and at family dinner tables nationwide.
The latest restriction follows bans on produce including green vegetables, milk and dairy products, some river fish, mushrooms and green tea.
Japan has no centralised system to test for food safety from radiation and has relied on prefectures and municipalities to carry out checks since the March 11 disaster.
The beef scandal surfaced this month when elevated caesium levels were found in Tokyo in meat from cattle shipped from a farm in Minamisoma, a town just outside the no-go zone around the tsunami-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
As consumer anger has grown, the government has been at pains to stress that standard servings of the beef pose no immediate health risk.