Sushi Is Safe, for Americans, at Least

Sushi lovers needn't fear the effects of radiation on their sashimi and tuna rolls -- at least not here in the U.S. For one thing, it will be a long while before anyone starts fishing off the coast of Japan near where the earthquake-ravaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is emitting dangerous radiation. It will be even longer before any fish caught in those waters makes its way to the United States. And even fish caught off the relatively untouched coastline further south, were they to be exported to the U.S., could not yet have found their way to supermarkets and sushi restaurants in California or Oregon or Washington.

Sushi may be a Japanese specialty, but the fish that goes into American restaurants' artfully sliced and rolled preparations are almost all caught far from the food's homeland. Japan is a very minor food exporter, accounting for only about 4% of our nation's total food imports; over half our fish comes from China, Thailand and Canada; Thailand, for instance, is a source of over 30% of the shrimp sold in the U.S. The rest of America's fish comes from South American and Indonesian countries.What's more, Japan is far more likely to import fish from the U.S. than the other way around; in fact, American meat and seafood producers have pledged to increase shipments to Japan because so much fish and meat was destroyed, and production was disrupted, by the tsunami. And when fish from Japan does come into U.S. ports, it's screened at the point of entry.

Fish wouldn't be the biggest concern, however, if you were eating a great deal of fresh food smuggled in from Japan. Radiation dissipates in air and water and would be far less worrisome than, for instance, the mercury content of a fish. The World Health Organization says the most likely sources of food-based contamination in a nuclear disaster are "the surface of foods like fruits and vegetables or animal feed... by deposit of radioactive materials falling on it from the air or through rain water." The prevailing winds, however, are carrying the radiation off.

Despite all this international fish funny business, American consumers have every reason not to worry about the safety -- where radiation exposure is concerned, in any case -- of their sushi. With the delicacy's culture of origin in shambles, however, we hope this does not remain sushi lovers' biggest concern.
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