Meat, game and fish

The meat of production animals is not very radioactive, but cesium 137 levels can be elevated in game and fish.

All food we consume contains small amounts of artificial radioactivity, originating from the Chernobyl accident that happened in 1986. Artificial radioactive substance concentration in the meat of production animals is very low. However, in accurate laboratory analyses, long-lived radioactive substances can be detected, such as radioactive cesium. Relatively high concentrations of artificial radioactive cesium are occasionally found in fish and game.

The cesium concentration in game and reindeer meat depends on what the animals eat. Mushrooms as part of the diet of elks can increase the cesium-137 concentration in venison. In elk calves, the cesium concentration is 1.2–1.5 times that of a full-grown elk. In the meat of blue hare, the concentration can be double or triple compared with venison from the same area. In waterfowl, brown hares and field grouse, the cesium concentration is much lower compared with venison.

The Commission’s maximum value for cesium in wild food products is 600 Bq/kg. In Finland, this limit may be exceeded in carnivorous fish in some lakes in areas that received a heavy fallout from Chernobyl. However, there is great local variation in the concentrations.

In addition to artificial radioactivity, naturally occurring radioactive materials, such as uranium, radium, polonium and lead, are found in food. Concentrations of natural nuclides in meat and fish are low. The highest polonium-210 concentrations measured in reindeer are 16 becquerels per kilogram and in fish 10 becquerels per kilogram. The concentrations of thorium, radium, uranium and lead isotopes are very low, less than one becquerel per kilogram.

Cesium in reindeer meat originates from nuclear weapon tests in the atmosphere

Radioactivity testing of reindeer meat began after the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident in 1986. Testing has continued until this day. Most of the cesium-137 found in the Finnish reindeer rearing area has its origins in the nuclear weapon tests performed in the atmosphere in the 1950s and 1960s. In addition, the Chernobyl fallout brought some radioactive substances to the reindeer rearing area.

There are great differences between reindeer herding districts. In addition, somewhat higher concentrations of radioactive cesium have been found in reindeer calves compared with adult reindeer. There are many factors influencing the amount of artificial radioactive substances in reindeer meat, the most important being the fallout in the area and the diet of reindeer. Lichen, beard moss and mushrooms contain more radioactive substances than the hay that is given to reindeer when other food is scarce.

Furthermore, the season has an effect. The radioactivity level of reindeer meat peaks in late winter and is at its lowest in late summer.

Cesium concentrations in fish vary greatly

Cesium concentrations in freshwater fish vary between different parts of Finland and between individual lakes. The highest concentrations have been measured in areas that received a heavy fallout from Chernobyl and, above all, in oligotrophic lakes and lakes in which the water is replaced slowly.

In Eastern and Northern Finland, cesium concentrations in fish are mainly below 100 becquerels per kilogram. In other parts of the country, average cesium concentrations in fish are 100–1,000 becquerels per kilogram. In the 2010s, the highest concentrations measured have been several thousand becquerels per kilogram.

Cesium concentrations are highest in carnivorous fish, such as pike, large perch, burbot and pike-perch. In the Baltic Sea, cesium concentrations in fish are lower compared with lakes. The large volume of water dilutes concentrations and the salt content decreases the cesium intake of fish. Today, the average cesium-137 concentration in Baltic Sea fish is less than 40 becquerels per kilogram.

Exposure to cesium-137 can be reduced by following the recommendations for fish consumption

Evira has given recommendations for fish consumption. In addition to mercury and dioxine concentrations, the recommendations take into account the dose caused by radioactive cesium. It is recommended to eat fish at least a couple of times a week, varying the species, because fish has many positive effects on health.  However, it is recommended that children and adolescents should not eat pike and Baltic Sea salmon, trout and large Baltic herrings more frequently than once or twice a month. Furthermore, it is recommended that those who eat freshwater fish every day reduce the use of other predatory fish as well.  

The radiation dose received from wild food products represents less than one per cent of the total dose

Cesium received from food represents less than one per cent of the total annual radiation dose, 3.2 millisieverts. The majority of the dose received from food comes from wild food products (fish, game, wild berries, wild mushrooms). The average dose from eating fish is less than 0.01 millisieverts per year. The average dose of cesium-137 from eating game is less than 0.003 millisieverts a year per person. People who eat a lot of wild food products may receive a tenfold radiation dose compared with the average consumer. Radiation doses received from fish vary greatly depending on the lake where the fish were caught and the amount consumed. By following Evira’s recommendations for fish consumption and observing the specified exceptions, it is possible to reduce the cesium-137 dose received.

Cesium-137 concentrations (Bq/kg fresh weight) in meat, game, reindeer and fish from 2003 to 2014.

Production animals

Cs-137

Measurements

Beef

0.1–103

43

Pork

0.5–10

48

Mutton

~20

1

Chicken

0.3–0.6

5

Game and reindeer

Cs-137

Measurements

Venison

0.5–350

73

Reindeer

32–380

44

Fish

Cs-137

Measurements

Freshwater fish

1.8–5,600

385

Saltwater fish

3–31

78

Farmed fish

0.2–10

50

Crayfish

27–78

21

 

Concentrations of natural nuclides (Bq/kg fresh weight) in reindeer and fish.

Game and reindeer

234U

238U

210Pb

210Po

226Ra

228Ra

228Th

Venison

<0.003

<0.002

0.1–0.2

0.3–0.7

< 0.1–0.3

<0.6

<0.1

Reindeer

<0.002

<0.001

0.1–1.2

1.9–16

<0.2

<0.2

<0.1

Fish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Freshwater fish

0.005–0.8

0.002–0.2

0.05–0.8

0.06–9.6

<0.1–0.8

<0.3

<0.1

Saltwater fish

 

 

0.04–0.5

0.3–4.0

 

 

 

Crayfish

 

 

0.1–0.4

1.7–4.7

 

 

 

 

Fish samples: Perch 2008–2012

Fish samples: Perch

Average cesium-137 concentration (Bq/kg fresh weight) in perch in various lakes from 2008 to 2012.

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