Because of the Japanese Earthquake and Potential Radiation, Is Nori Safe to Eat? (Updated)

Written by Max Goldberg on May 17, 2011. Follow Max on Twitter: @livingmaxwell.

(At the bottom of this post you will find important updates from two distributors/sellers of nori, Great Eastern Sun and Sunfood, and one organic food company, Food on Purpose, who uses nori in its products. The original post was written on April 22nd)

——

The other day I did a post on the fantastic organic Nutty Nori Chips by Food on Purpose. When I bought the chips, I figured that the nori had been purchased many months before the earthquake in Japan and that there wasn’t much cause for concern.

Yet it did bring up an important issue, one that many readers have since contacted me about.

Given that so many people eat sushi or vegetable sushi rolls, is it safe to eat nori?

A Primer on Nori

Nori is a sea vegetable that is almost exclusively grown in the waters off of Japan, Korea and China.

Sea vegetables are widely eaten because of their ability to absorb important minerals from the sea, such as magnesium, calcium, iron, and iodine.

However, since they do act like a sponge, the sea vegetables also absorb toxic material, such as heavy metals and contaminants.

So, the quality of the sea water will determine the quality of the sea vegetable.

The Effect of the Japanese Earthquake

At first, many experts did not seem gravely concerned about the radiation levels in the ocean near Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors. This is because the sea is enormous and would have diluted any toxic material that made its way into the water.

However, in early April workers started to dump as much as 3 million gallons of contaminated water directly into the ocean. Obviously, this was much more worrisome.

Sushi restaurants could easily switch their purchasing of fish from Japan to fish that comes from other parts of the world. With nori, they do not have that flexibility.

The main concern now is that nori will easily absorb, and concentrate, plutonium and cesium, both of which are harmful to humans.

How much radioactive material the nori picks up remains to be seen.

Current Situation

I contacted Food on Purpose and asked them about their nori. What I heard was the following.

All of the nori that they have now and for the next several months is already here or has been shipped. In other words, it was harvested before the disaster.

Going forward, the distributor will be doing independent batch testing for radiation on all products harvested after the tsunami. In about 6 months time is when the company will be closely monitoring the quality of the nori. At the present moment, it is not an issue.

Something else to consider here.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors are on the northeast coast of Japan while many of the sea vegetable beds are on the southwest part of the country. And from what I have been hearing, the winds and currents are blowing more towards the continental U.S. and Alaska, away from southeast Japan and China and Korea, the two other primary producers of nori.

My Take

According to Patty Lovera, Assistant Director of Food & Water Watch, “there is simply not enough information on radiation’s effects in Japanese seaweed imports to deduce whether or not they are safe following the Japanese nuclear disaster.”

I agree with her. We cannot be sure if it is safe but unless I know the exact situation of where my organic nori is coming from, such as the Food on Purpose example I gave above, I am not going to take a chance.

Now, this is very easy for me to do since I am not a sushi eater and rarely eat vegetable rolls that have nori in them.

I have been eating very little fish these days and if I do, I will make sure it is (a) not from Japan and (b) not on the Dirty Dozen of fish.

For many years, I have purchased my dulse from Maine Coast Sea Vegetable and will continue to do so. They are certified organic and do testing for all heavy metals, contaminants and pesticides.

At the end of the day, I wonder if this horrible incident in Japan will make people much more aware of the safety of ALL of the food that they are putting in their body.

I really hope so.

—– BELOW IS THE UPDATED CONTENT —–

After I wrote the original post on April 22nd, I have since received responses from three companies who sell or distribute nori. Here is what they had to say.

From Brian Bowers, Chief Operating Officer of Sunfood

I’ve spoken to both Maine Coast and Goldmine Natural Foods, our two sea vegetable suppliers. They both assured us that all of the current inventory we have was collected before the Fukushima incident and is free of radiation. They also assured us that future shipments will be tested before they are shipped from the source and again when they arrive in the US. We have requested that we be provided with these reports before we accept any sea vegetables that were harvested after the incident.

From Marnie Mikell, Public Relations Executive from Great Eastern Sun, Distributor of Emerald Cove Organic Nori

1. Emerald Cove Organic Nori is grown, harvested, and packaged in China, not Japan. As we all know, winds and ocean currents move from west to east, so because China is on the west side of Japan, any radiation fallout would circle the globe before arriving there.

2. All Emerald Cove seaweeds currently in our warehouse and on store shelves is from the 2010 harvest, which occurred in the winter and therefore happened before the March 11 Japanese disaster.

3. As an organic product, Emerald Cove nori is tested for heavy metal and microbial contamination as a requirement for certification. When the 2011 seaweed crop is ready to harvest, which will be in the coming winter, additional testing may be done to determine if there is any abnormal level of radiation, however it remains to be seen what testing will be done and who will do it.

Our customers can rest assured that we have not, do not, and will not sell unsafe food products. With more than thirty years in the natural foods industry, we are committed to providing the highest quality natural and organic foods we can provide, for the health of ourselves and our planet.

From Paul Pennell, Founder of Food On Purpose

For many many months, probably up to nearly a year, the Nori we use in our Nori Chips was harvested well before the terrible events in Japan. We, and our distributors, are stocked up for many seasons ahead with Nori. However, at the point that any products start coming in from Japan (post-earthquake), all ingredients will be tested, marked and stamped so our customers know exactly what is going on. I will eventually be creating a sticker that guarantees the safety of our Nori.

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24 Comments

  1. Hello Max,

    Thank you for sharing this very, very helpful and educational information.
    I shared your post with my colleagues, customers and friends.
    Thank you for doing the homework on our behalf.

    With appreciation,
    stephanie

    Written by stephanie haughey on May 18, 2011 @ 8:12 pm
  2. Hi Stephanie,

    My pleasure. Thanks for sharing it with your network.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on May 19, 2011 @ 7:28 pm
  3. Marnie Mikell [Public Relations Executive of “Great Eastern Sun” Distributor of Emerald Cove Organic Nori] said:

    “”Emerald Cove Organic Nori is grown, harvested, and packaged in China, not Japan. As we all know, winds and ocean currents move from west to east, so because China is on the west side of Japan, any radiation fallout would circle the globe before arriving there.””

    As we all know, winds and ocean curents move from west to east. Rubbish! Is Marnie oblivious to The Ocean Conveyor or is she just BS’ing. Check the directions for yourselves folks: http://science.nasa.gov/media/medialibrary/2004/03/01/05mar_arctic_resources/currents1.jpg

    Written by gmc on December 21, 2011 @ 5:41 am
  4. We are not being told the dangers of this horrendous and tragic happening in Japan and it is putting the worlds food and air in great danger. They are NOT testing as they should be and are NOT telling us the truth.

    http://fukushima-diary.com/

    Written by Sth on February 2, 2012 @ 4:45 pm
  5. I couldn’t agree more. From what I have read, the Japanese authorities are not disclosing the truth to the citizens there.

    If this were to happen in the U.S., our government would be reacting in the exact same manner. Just look at 9/11. Days after the accident, the EPA told everyone the air was safe. Of course, we know that was not the case.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on February 3, 2012 @ 5:29 pm
  6. I have been keeping and eye on the happenings in Japan and it is quite frighting here are a few sites that are informative. The Radiation has already reached the USA–and God know where else

    http://vimeo.com/36219994

    and also Dr Helen Caldicott’s site where she does a program every Friday EST and you can listen to her podcasts and also older ones as well

    http://ifyoulovethisplanet.org/

    Written by Sth on February 8, 2012 @ 6:54 pm
  7. It is very frightening indeed and no government wants its people to know the truth about what is going on with the radiation. Thanks for the links, I’ll share them.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on February 9, 2012 @ 2:14 pm
  8. Max here is another link there is a lot of reading on this and also states that the Nth of Aust’ has had some as well but kept very quite.

    http://globalcooperative.wordpress.com/2011/05/18/radiation-map-analysis-europe-australasia/

    Written by Sth on February 9, 2012 @ 2:49 pm
  9. This is great. Thanks so much for providing these helpful links.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on February 9, 2012 @ 4:49 pm
  10. Regarding Marnie Mikell statement, this is just empty PR rhetoric. It does not answer any questions regarding contamination or testing. Out of all the companies I contacted regarding radiation contamination, Great Eastern Sun, makers of Emerald Cove Sushi Nori, is the only one that has not responded and has been otherwise quiet on this important issue regarding their consumers’ safety. Be advised that Eden Foods, Maine Coast and Navitas naturals subject their products to voluntary testing. Why take the risk when there are better quality options out there from companies concerned with their products’ integrity rather than just $$. Anyway, thanks for the weather lesson Great Eastern Sun.

    Written by Joe on May 14, 2012 @ 10:33 pm
  11. I’ve been wanting to buy some matcha tea, but I think all of it comes from Japan, and I wouldn’t want to buy any food or ingredients from Japan nowadays. Is there an organic matcha tea that comes from somewhere else?

    Written by Judy Pokras on July 14, 2012 @ 1:28 am
  12. Hi Judy,

    I was recently sent an organic green tea from Denmark. I am not sure if it is produced there or simply distributed there. Let me find out and I’ll leave another comment with what I learn.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on July 15, 2012 @ 8:28 pm
  13. Hello Max,
    Thank you for writing on this topic! Do you have or know of any more current writings about tis situation of seaweed and safety?
    Many blessings,
    Karen

    Written by Karen on September 17, 2012 @ 11:19 am
  14. Hi Karen,

    It is a topic that definitely needs to be updated, I agree, and I’ll be on top of that right after Expo East, which is this week. Look for something in early October.

    Based on what I have been hearing/reading, the radiation levels in California are still very high but are not being reported on by the mainstream media.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on September 17, 2012 @ 5:15 pm
  15. Hello, here’s a fantastic package. More than you might want to know.
    Call it an update.

    What about Organic Seaweed? If you do a search,
    “Organic Doesn’t Mean Radiation Free”

    “Fast Food Super Food: An Ocean Of Seaweed Salads”
    http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2012/11/28/18726685.php

    California wild sustainably hand harvested edible sea vegetables are tested Radiation free. And there’s a whole lot more to it than just that.

    Buy local, think global.

    Indonesia supplied half the world’s dried seaweed by weight until the Montara Oil Field disaster 3 years ago. And it is primed already to be the largest value added seaweed producer in the world – just as the new Montara Gas and Oil Field Bonanza goes back online. But it’s 24 to 1 odds. LNG $24 billion Seaweed Chips $1billion

    Delicious and Nutritious – North Coast Seaweeds
    Tomas DiFiore
    Northern, CA

    Written by Tomas DiFiore on November 30, 2012 @ 6:49 pm
  16. Let’s be honest, playing a game of ocean currents and how much, when and where has little meaning. Eventually if the contaminents are there in large enough quantities it will end up in some life forms. Now whether it means a high or low degree of contamination I doubt anyone can even venture an educated guess. Time will tell. However, let me be clear to anyone who thinks that if a vendor says they test that means you are safe. Testing is only going to be batch specific and certainly not to any significant degree as the tests are very expensive. Second they know there’s no way for you to know. Third what is a “safe” amount, to the vendor not wiling to lose profit that can be much higher than you’d willinging ingest. So as usual buyer beware and ask specific questions such as how the testing is done, what testing, frequency and posting of detailed results. Verification of the labs used is also important. If the vendor balks at giving details I’d look elsewhere.

    Written by tslate on July 30, 2013 @ 9:32 am
  17. All pretty good points there. But batch testing is about all we can ask for.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on July 31, 2013 @ 2:32 pm
  18. China has been testing the ocean off their coast and is finding lots of Fukushima radiation. I wouldnt buy the Chinese Nori touted here. I dont see one single radiation test on these company websites. “Trust us” they say. Who are we supposed to think they are? The government?

    Written by david taylor on October 18, 2013 @ 11:00 am
  19. Seriously !

    The three sources from your validation of Nori being safe comes from the very sources that sell it ?
    That’s like saying the only valid testimony in a murder trial comes from the defense, without any other testimony allowed in court.

    There has to be a legitimate OBJECTIVE source to examine the safety of these foods, and conduct thorough scientific tests that can give a current assessment of their safety .

    I certainly am not going to trust my life with the assurances you have provided in this article.

    Written by Izzy on December 17, 2013 @ 7:02 pm
  20. I have been looking into this more recently due to the multiple explosions from the continually melting-down reactors in Fukushima. We are also seeing 300 tons of water coming out of the reactors contanimated, of which who-knows how much is draining off into the ocean. Unfortunately this is a world wide problem that is being allowed to be swept under the rug and just let them Japanese handle it… the same Tokyo Electric company that covered up the gravity of the problem and poisoned their own people, and continue to do so to this day. All I can do is protect me and mine.
    What I am wondering is, A) can you give us an update on the Nori situation? and B) have you found any alternatives that possibly grow on a self-contained farm?
    My 12 year old son will eat his weight in sushi, and is very upset about Mom not letting him eat it anymore until we find a safe source.

    Written by Nichole on January 24, 2014 @ 1:16 pm
  21. My kids love seaweed rice crackers. Are they safe to eat? Should I be sourcing a brand that labels where the nori is harvested?
    Looking forward to hearing back from you,
    Warm regards
    Jen

    Written by Jen redmond on February 12, 2014 @ 11:14 pm
  22. Regarding Emerald Cove:

    I have a problem with their statement. Now I must say that Emerald Cove has the tastiest nori. However I have tested EC, Eden, and Natural Import Company’s nori. The highest ionizing radiation comes from EC. Eden is second, and NIC is last (same as background).

    EC is twice background.

    Written by Cal on April 24, 2014 @ 1:37 am
  23. Thank you for writing this post regarding Japan’s nuclear disaster. I am aware of what I eat and where it is from because of this situation. This article is a few years old and I could not find an updated one. I am curious as to what your current assessment of the situation is. Do you feel safe eating Alaskan Salmon? Most sea salt is from the coast of California. Do you feel comfortable eating that? I would love to read an updated article!

    Thanks,
    Michelle

    Written by Michelle on April 29, 2014 @ 10:46 pm
  24. […] to Max Goldberg, on his blog post –  Because of the Japanese Earthquake and Potential Radiation, Is Nori Safe to Eat? – the seaweed produced by the Great Eastern Sun company are routinely tested and the company […]

    Pingback by Raw Food Solution – Seaweed Salad on December 9, 2014 @ 4:39 pm

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