~e; nuclearized foodstuffs
Thu, 12 Sep 2002 21:16:51 -0400
Moscow checks food that all but glows in the dark
Michael Wines The New York Times
Friday, September 13, 2002 MOSCOW Good news for Muscovites. "There are
practically no cases of radioactive watermelons this year," says Andrei
All right. Maybe that is practically good news. Then again, it could be
worse. Some of the lingonberries here all but glow in the dark.
It is radioactive-produce season in Moscow, and it's a bad one. Or,
on one's perspective, a great one: So far this summer, the inspectors at
Moscow City veterinarian's office have confiscated a ton of hot
lingonberries, blueberries and practically nonexistent melons. And the
cranberry and mushroom seasons are yet to come.
At this rate, says Buyanov, the office's amiable, crew-cut deputy chief,
seizures could exceed last year's 1,380 kilograms (3,000 pounds) by a good
percent. And last year's seizures were slightly above those the year before.
Buyanov displays little pleasure in his increasing haul of radioactive
But it does suggest that he and his inspectors are doing their job, which
to nab edibles rich in cesium and strontium before they reach any of the
city's 69 open-air produce markets.
If anyone wonders why Moscow needs a corps of atomic food inspectors, the
answer is simple: The city lies a bare 665 kilometers, or 415 miles, from
Ukraine's Chernobyl nuclear-power station, which belched a Hiroshima bomb's
worth of isotopes into the air when one of its reactors blew apart in April
If anyone wonders why this task falls to the veterinary service, that
is simple, too: Besides lingonberries and mushrooms, the inspectors are on
constant lookout for hot sirloin and pork chops.
Lest this sound alarmist, it should be said that grocery shopping in Moscow
is a completely roentgen-free experience (with one exception, noted later),
thanks to the vigilance of the atomic food inspectors. Even if the
were to vanish tomorrow, Russians could still safely eat most anything they
chose (with several exceptions, noted immediately below).
The problems mostly arise with what Irina Rozanova, the chief of the city's
food-inspection laboratory, calls forest produce - mushrooms, berries and
other delicacies that, often as not, are hand-picked in the wild by folks
looking to supplement their incomes.
The quality of farm-grown food can be monitored fairly easily. Not so
produce. "Normally, some middleman buys it from various sources and brings
to market," she said. "And when he's asked where it comes from, the seller
just gives the name of some region near Moscow."
Dramatically demonstrating the perils posed by produce smugglers, Rozanova
opened a laboratory jar, plucked out a suspicious-looking dried mushroom
Bryansk, a Russian region bordering Chernobyl, and probed it with her
alpha-beta-gamma spectrometer. "It shows the cesium content is 20 times the
admissible level," she said.
Cesium 137 is easily absorbed by the body and has a half-life of 30 years.
Mushrooms tend to soak it up, Rozanova said, lending new meaning to the
"mushroom cloud." And as fate has it, Russians utterly dote on wild
mushrooms. Not far behind are blueberries, cranberries and lingonberries,
which are indistinguishable from cranberries save that they are a bit
The men and women of the veterinarian's office are posted in tiny
laboratories at each of the city's 69 produce markets. There, with
scanners and more sophisticated measuring machines, they take the
measure of every crate that comes through their doors.
Anything suspected of radiating is shipped off to Rozanova's lab for a
determination, then handed over to a produce-destruction squad if the
findings are confirmed.
Radioactive-produce season runs roughly from June through October. First
the blueberries and lingonberries. About now come the forest mushrooms. In
October it will be glowing-cranberry time.
Buyanov and his inspectors have caught 160 radioactive shipments so far
season. "Nobody sells anything at a market without a test," he said, "and
markets where there are no labs, the sale of produce is banned."
Which makes for an airtight, lead-lined inspection system. With one glaring
exception: the kerchief-clad, gap-toothed grandmothers who illegally peddle
fresh produce at hundreds of street corners, roadside stands and metro
stations. "We don't regulate them," Buyanov said severely. "Better to buy
a market where it's all checked."
But even hardened Muscovites cannot resist a wizened babushka trying to
support her grandchildren by selling fruit. So buy,
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