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