Technology Science - Consumer radiation fears concern dairy farmers

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B.C. dairy farmers are calling on health authorities to test for radiation in their milk products to allay public fears arising from the Japanese nuclear crisis.

Very low levels of radiation have been detected in milk samples taken in the past week in Washington, directly south of B.C.

Traces of iodine-131 were found in the milk at concentrations that are 5,000 times below levels considered dangerous, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday.

That has prompted Robin Smith, executive director of the B.C. Milk Producers Association, to call on government agencies to help reassure the public.

'We're going to be a little more cautious when we do purchase milk.'â€Â"Sheena Ho, Vancouver

"We would have great peace of mind if a reputable authority, the CFIA, Canadian Food Inspection Agency, or our own Centre for Disease Control, tested some milk off the shelf and said, 'Hey, there's nothing in this product.'"

Even at the levels found in the U.S. milk, children drinking five glasses a day would only be exposed to the same amount of radiation as if they took a five-hour flight on a commercial airliner.

Parents remain concerned

Despite the official reassurances, some B.C. parents are worried. Eighteen-month-old Lina Gomes of Vancouver drinks up to a litre of milk a day, but her mother, Ananda Gomes, said she's switching her to canned formula for the time being to be safe.

"I'm going to do whatever's best for her," Gomes said. "And if right now it's formula, that's what its going to be for us."

Other parents echoed Gomes's concerns.

"We're going to be a little more cautious when we do purchase milk," said Sheena Ho of Vancouver.

Radiation levels continue to rise near Japan's Fukushima nuclear reactors heavily damaged by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, and iodine-131 has been detected in minuscule amounts at B.C. monitoring stations.

Radiation is only being officially monitored in B.C.'s atmosphere, and not in food, but more tests could be coming, said the B.C. Centre for Disease Control's Dr. Bonnie Henry.

"It is a responsibility of the Radiation Protection Bureau," said Henry. "So we're in discussion with them about what is a prudent program to put in place."

With files from the CBC's Eric Rankin

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