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.
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.
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.