Food Law News - UK - 2008

FSA News item, 27 June 2008

RADIOACTIVITY - Post-Chernobyl monitoring reports published

The Agency has today published three reports on the monitoring of sheep at farms remaining under post-Chernobyl restrictions.

As a result of the surveys:

It was impossible to conduct any surveys in North Wales last year, due to the outbreak of foot and mouth disease.

While the Agency continues to protect the consumer where appropriate, it is also committed to lifting restrictions where appropriate. Further surveys are planned in 2009.

BackgroundIn 1986, an accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the former USSR (now Ukraine) released large quantities of radioactivity into the atmosphere. Some of this was deposited on certain upland areas of the UK where sheep are farmed.

In order to protect the health of consumers, restrictions were placed on the movement and sale of sheep from areas of the UK where contamination levels in sheep meat were over 1,000 Becquerels (a measure of radioactivity) per kilogramme - the safety limit set in 1986.

A live monitoring technique is used, where an external monitor is held against the sheep, giving a count rate that is then converted to a concentration (bq/kg). To allow for inherent variability in live monitoring results, a Working Action Level of 645 bq/kg is applied (rather than 1000 bq/kg). This has been set so there is only a 1 in 40 chance of a sheep above the limit giving a monitor reading below this level.

In 1986, almost 9000 farms were under these restrictions in the UK. Since then, the levels of radioactivity have fallen in some of the affected areas. The number of farms still under restriction in Cumbria, Scotland and Wales - the areas covered by the three reports - is now 369.

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