Radionuclides Contamination and Food Safety


The food supply in Macao is mainly dependent on imports. In 2011, the Fukushima nuclear power plant occurred radionuclides leaking incident in Japan. Macao government has immediately taken measures to control the spread of risks from imported Japanese foods, including of monitoring the quantity of radionuclide contained in foods, then update the information and report to the public timely. Moreover, the Administrative Regulation No. 16/2014 ‘Maximum Limits of Radionuclides in Food’ regulates the maximum permissible limits of radioiodine-131 (131I), radiocaesium-134 (134Cs) and radiocaesium-137 (137Cs) in infant foods and other foods to safeguard food safety.


Human Health Effects of Radionuclides

Radionuclides exist in the nature, which make food and water have an opportunity to be contaminated with trace amounts of radioactive substances. Compared to nuclear bomb explosions and nuclear power plant incidents, the concentration and type of radionuclides leaks in such human activities are relatively higher. Radioactive materials can be distributed by the flows of wind, water and animals to farmlands, grasslands, rivers, lakes, oceans, etc., then entering into food chain. If human consume those food contaminated with radioactive substances for a long time, the contaminants can accumulate and decay in our body; so, it increases the risk of cancer induction and harms our health.


Specification for Radionuclides Limits in Food Enacted by International Standard and Macao's Regulation

There were two large-scale nuclear power plant incidents in human history. That is, Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986 and Fukushima in Japan in 2011. Both caused a large amount of high concentration of radionuclides leaks so that arouse worldwide public concerns. After the first nuclear disaster, the Joint FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission enacted the ‘Guideline Levels for Radionuclides in Foods Contaminated Following a Nuclear or Radiological Emergency’ to establish the maximum limits of baby foods and other foods for use in the international food trade.


According to available data, not all radionuclides can enter human body and accumulate through dietary intake. For instance, only very little amount of radioactive plutonium (Pu) is absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract after eating the contaminated food. Most of this radioactive substance is discharged from the body so it is unlikely to cause major health hazards to humans.


In order to protect global public health, the FAO/WHO has analyzed public health data and experiences regarding nuclear disasters over the years. They found that after consuming the contaminated food, radioactive iodine (I) and cesium (Cs) can accumulate in human body and be more likely to induce cancers. In particular, children are at higher risk of developing illness than adults. In view of this, many countries use the maximum limits of radioiodine and radiocaesium in foods as the regulatory standards to monitor the imported foods from nuclear affected areas.


As a member of the World Trade Organization, Macao government took a reference from the FAO/WHO standard to establish the Administrative Regulation No. 16/2014 ‘Maximum Limits of Radionuclides in Food’. Based on the local surveillance report on food risks, the levels of radioactive iodine-131, caesium-134 and caesium-137 in baby foods and other foods are regulated; moreover, all imported foods are treated on an the principle of fairness to ensure food safety in Macao.


How does the Macao government regulate food imported from areas affected by nuclear incidents?

Subsequent to the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011, Macao has been conducting risk assessment and monitoring of imported Japanese food products on an ongoing basis. According to the government announcement dated 15 July, 2011, the inspection of vegetables, fruits, milk and milk products imported from nine prefectures of Japan (Chiba, Tochigi, Ibaraki, Gunma, Miyagi, Niigata, Nagano, Saitama and Tokyo Metropolis) has been temporarily suspended. As for applications for the import of seafood and seafood products, meat of livestock and their products from these prefectures, they will only be considered unless provided with required supporting certificates and documents. The processing of all applications for inspection of food products imported from Fukushima prefecture is suspended temporarily.


On 4 October, 2019, the Administration Committee on Municipal Affairs of the Municipal Affairs Bureau passed a resolution on the management measures applicable to the import of Japanese food products into Macao. With the exception of Fukushima prefecture, application for the import of Japanese food products into Macao from the nine other prefectures (Chiba, Tochigi, Ibaraki, Gunma, Miyagi, Niigata, Nagano, Saitama and Tokyo Metropolis) shall only be accepted when the statement on radiation monitoring and certificate of origin issued by the Japanese authority are provided, in addition to meeting the existing requirements on sanitary certificate(s) for import. Besides, the imported Japanese food products are subject to inspection at the port of entry and shall only be allowed to enter Macao after passing the inspection.


With regard to sales, the Department of Food Safety of the Municipal Affairs Bureau and the Economic and Technological Development Bureau conduct joint inspection of packaged food products available on the market regularly in order to monitor the correctness of food labels and their information. Furthermore, no abnormality is detected in the routine surveillance of the radionuclides levels in fresh and live food products imported from Japan. If any food product is found to contain excessive permissible of radionuclides which is stated on the standard of 'Maximum Limits of Radionuclides in Food', the Department of Food Safety can take immediate actions depending on the severity and scope of risks, such as removal from shelves, recall and sealing suspected food products so as to prevent the spread of food hazards as well as protect residents’ health.


How to reduce the intake of food contaminated with radionuclides?

Macao has adopted effective measures for monitoring imported food products from Japan, so the public should not be overly worried about radionuclides contamination of imported food products. Moreover, most of the radionuclides released from nuclear incidents precipitate the soil or waters surrounding the affected area in Japan, where is approximately 3,100 km away from Guangdong province. Since the drinking water and majority of fresh meat and vegetables supplied to Macao come from China, all foods are subject to take dual surveillance measures in both China and Macao. All of them have been passed rigorous inspection for food safety. Hence, consumers can eat the food with peace of mind.


The food industry ought to declare the imported food which is subject to compulsory sanitary and quarantine inspection in accordance with the law. They should place orders with reputable suppliers. Upon receipt of food delivery, they should check whether the food packaging is intact and there is adequate information on food labels, etc. When consumers purchase Japanese packaged food products, they can pay attention to the ‘販売者’ (vender)  and ‘製造所’ (manufacturer) indicated on the food labels. The former is the address of business registration for the company, i.e. office, but it is not the place of food manufacture. The latter specifies the location of the food manufacturing or processing plants, which is usually expressed in ‘製造所固有記號’ (identification number of manufacturing plant). If consumers have any doubts about the place of origin or the quality of food product, we should not buy or consume it.