Ben and Jerry's Fukishima Crunch to Hit Supermarkets Soon

By Michael I. Niman

ArtVoice 4/14/11

Vermont, the Green Mountain State, is known for its wholesome agricultural products—things like maple syrup and Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. Dairy is the state’s largest agricultural export, with 20 percent of the Vermont’s dairy farms now under organic management. Almost a quarter of the state’s fruit and vegetable crops are also certified organic. And Vermont produces nearly a quarter of our maple syrup. Though home to a major semiconductor factory, the state is more commonly associated with its cottage industries and small, family-owned businesses, manufacturing such staples as snowboards and teddy bears. The term “bucolic” comes to mind when we see Vermont’s green license plates. One of their two US senators is a socialist, and the state is in the process of opting out of the Obama corporate health model and instituting its own single-payer healthcare program. This is overwhelmingly popular with a cross-section of Vermont residents, many of whom transplanted themselves to Vermont in an effort to escape our WalMartized culture.

This week, bucolic Vermont was in the news because radioactive cesium-137 released by Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has found its way into the Green Mountain State’s milk and dairy products, both organic and inorganic, registering 1.9 picoCuries of radiation per liter. With a radioactive half life of over 30 years (meaning it will still be radioactive 200 years from now), cesium-137 accumulates in our soft body tissue, where it is a contributing factor to the formation of cancer cells. Fukishima radiation, in various forms, has also shown up in dairy products and drinking water across the United States. In Little Rock, Arkansas, milk samples are showing three times the EPA maximum recommended level of radioactive iodine-131. Philidelphia’s drinking water has iodine-131 counts that are approaching the EPA maximum.

The radiation levels that we are seeing are still currently low, and on their own, as the EPA optimistically puts it, may pose little health risk—that is, unless leaks continue on at Fukushima. Even so, according to the group Physicians for Social Responsibility, there is no acceptable level of cesium-137 or iodine-131 contamination of food or water, since both are contributing factors in cancer creation.

Safe or not, Fukushima contamination showing up in Vermont is a stark reminder that we all live on a little planet, and like it or not, there is no escaping this global society. Techno-fetishistic corporate arrogance—the reckless gall in building hellish poison plants upwind from the rest of the world—will, in the end, be felt on the organic farms of Vermont. We do live on what Buckminster Fuller termed “Spaceship Earth.” For better or worse, we share an ocean and an atmosphere—with neither turning out to be the boundless dumps we once thought them to be.

Japan so far has escaped the worst possible effects of its nuclear disaster, since the Japanese chose to site the Fukushima plant on the edge of the ocean, so that radioactive gasses are carried offshore by prevailing winds, and liquid radioactive leaks and dumps are carried away by sea currents. Whereas an inland plant would have poisoned much more of Japan, the seaside monster allows the Japanese government to rhetorically minimize the effects of its nuclear catastrophe, while the poisons swirl around the earth, waiting for untimely rains to drop them randomly on unsuspecting cities and farm communities.

In addition to the radioactive iodine and cesium that we are seeing in American water and agricultural products, the Fukushima monster has already belched out enough plutonium, if it were evenly and efficiently distributed, to kill off every person on the planet. This too gone to the magic land of “Away,” where it will show up as magic little cancer mines over the next several thousand years. Eating fish will now be like playing a game of Russian roulette, though perhaps with better odds.

In the global village, there is no magic land of “Away.” The fact is, because of this one nuclear power plant mishap, our world and the world of future generations will never be the same. Geiger counters that fishing boats will soon be as common as life jackets. And Ben and Jerry’s will plant little radioactive seeds in your thyroid. Currently there are 439 land-based nuclear reactors in operation, and more than 150 nuclear-powered naval ships and submarines plying the world’s oceans. In the US alone, there has been approximately one nuclear reactor leak per year since 1990. If we are indeed playing Russian roulette, the odds are turning against us. And neither Vermont nor any other place on this shrinking earth will ever again be bucolic. We’ve got to stop this nuclear insanity right now.

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Dr. Michael I. Niman is a professor of Journalism and Media Studies at Buffalo State College. His previous columns are at, archived at, and available globally through syndication.

ęCopyright 2011

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