TOKYO, July 17 Japan's second-biggest retailer said on Sunday it had sold beef from cattle that ate nuclear-contaminated feed, the latest in a series of health scares from radiation leaking from a quake-crippled nuclear power plant.
Cases of contaminated vegetables, tea, milk, seafood and water have already stoked anxiety after the world's worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986, despite assurances from officials that the levels are not dangerous.
Aeon Co (8267.T) said it had sold the contaminated beef at a store in Tokyo and at more than dozen stores in the surrounding area, as radiation continues to spill from the Fukushima nuclear power plant four months after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
Aeon, which competes with top retail group Seven & I Holdings (3382.T), said in a statement cattle from Fukushima prefecture were given animal feed originating from rice straw that exceeded the government's limits for radioactive cesium.
Japan was now likely to ban shipments of beef, hugely popular in Japan, from around Fukushima, a cabinet minister said on Sunday. It was not immediately clear what had delayed such a move, likely to inflame criticism that the government has been slow in its response to the crisis.
Aeon said it sold 703 pounds of the beef from April 27 to June 20 at one shop in Tokyo and other shops in Kanagawa and Chiba. Aeon said it also sold the beef at outlets in Shizuoka and Ishikawa, both in central Japan.
The retailer said it would start to check beef shipments from all areas that could potentially have contaminated feed.
"The most likely outcome is that we will ban beef shipments," Goshi Hosono, the cabinet minister responsible for coordinating the nuclear cleanup, said on a TV program on Sunday. "We are discussing the matter along these lines. We have to ensure food safety."
Cesium three- to six-times higher than safety standards was found last week in beef shipped to Tokyo from a farmer in Minami Soma city, near Tokyo Electric Power Co's (9501.T) Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
A Farm Ministry official said consuming such meat a few times would pose no immediate health risks.
Shipments of certain vegetables from areas near the plant have also been halted due to high radiation levels, while cesium was found at levels above safety limits in tiny "kounago" fish in waters near Fukushima, stoking worries about seafood in a country where sushi and sashimi are eaten widely. (Reporting by Stanley White; Editing by Nick Macfie)