BEIJING The World Health Organization said on Monday that the detection of radiation in food after an earthquake damaged a Japanese nuclear plant was a more serious problem than it had first expected.
"Quite clearly it's a serious situation," Peter Cordingley, Manila-based spokesman for WHO's regional office for the Western Pacific, told Reuters in a telephone interview.
"It's a lot more serious than anybody thought in the early days when we thought that this kind of problem can be limited to 20 to 30 kilometers," he said.
Cases of contaminated vegetables, dust, milk and water are already stoking regional anxieties despite Japanese officials' assurances the levels are not dangerous.
Japan's government has prohibited the sale of raw milk from Fukushima prefecture and spinach from another nearby area. It said more restrictions on food may be announced later on Monday.
Cordingley said the WHO had no evidence of contaminated food from Fukushima prefecture, where the damaged Daiichi plant is located, reaching other countries.
"We can't make any link between Daiichi and the export market. But it's safe to suppose that some contaminated produce got out of the contamination zone," he said.
Cordingley said the WHO's experts at its Geneva headquarters were trying to better understand the situation and would be able to give more guidance later on Monday.
But he cautioned that it was difficult to know at the moment whether the radioactive material found in some food in Japan originated from the stricken Daiichi plant.
(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee, Editing by Ben Blanchard)