Photo/IllutrationA cattle farm in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, on Dec. 19 (Masahito Iinuma)

FUKUSHIMA--In the absence of significant radiation levels being detected in cattle for more than six years, Fukushima Prefecture decided to switch from blanket to random safety testing.

Similar moves have been seen in Iwate, Miyagi and Tochigi prefectures.

Blanket inspections in those prefectures had been the norm since the nuclear crisis triggered by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster unfolded.

Thirty-three other prefectures which voluntarily inspect cattle for health and safety reasons have also made such a move.

Fukushima prefectural authorities announced the change in policy at a Dec. 23 review meeting attended by beef producers, distributors and others.

Under the plan, at least one animal will be checked per year for each farm, with the exception of "difficult-to-return" zones where radiation levels remain high.

Blanket testing will continue for old cows to be slaughtered for beef.

The decision will receive formal approval in January.

In the summer after the nuclear accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011, cattle exceeding the provisional standard of 500 becquerels per kilogram were found in Fukushima, Iwate, Miyagi and Tochigi prefectures.

While the central government has allowed beef to be delivered if farms check one animal a year and meet other conditions, all four prefectures have continued conducting strict inspections of their own accord.

Since August 2011 when blanket testing started, no animals in Fukushima Prefecture have been found to exceed the standard set in 2012 of 100 becquerels per kilogram. The prefectural government concluded that safety can be secured without inspecting all cattle.

Still, according to a survey compiled by the prefecture this past October covering 2,584 consumers, 45.9 percent of respondents insisted that blanket testing be continued.

A staff member of a major distributor, said: “It seems that many consumers only trust products that have passed inspections."

Since March 2011, 159 cattle have been found to exceed the standard across Japan, according to the farm ministry. No cattle exceeding the standard have been found since April 2013.

(This article was written by Masahito Iinuma and Shinichi Sekine.)