French officials have found veal in a Moscow central market containing radiation more than six times the newly adopted European Community standard level, diplomatic sources said today, as western embassies here issued new precautionary measures against foodstuffs possibly contaminated from the Chernobyl nuclear accident.
The veal was shipped to Paris for testing earlier this week. French Embassy officials here reported the results of the test this afternoon, and diplomatic sources said they also advised against the consumption of locally produced pork.
The contaminated veal provoked new concerns about food among westerners living in the Soviet capital. The U.S. Embassy warned last weekend against consumption of local milk by pregnant women and children. Americans based in Moscow met at the U.S. Embassy today to pose questions about the continuing health hazards resulting from the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear plant.
The veal, apparently the most contaminated of the foods examined by westerners here, also raised questions about how effectively Soviet officials are guarding against contamination of food by radiation emitted after the Chernobyl nuclear plant exploded and burned April 26. Soviet officials have assured Moscow-based diplomats that food from the Chernobyl region, 450 miles from here, is undergoing strict checks. But the western community is doing its own radiation monitoring, using random tests done with simple equipment.
The veal tested in Paris contained 3,700 becquerels of radiation, diplomatic sources said.
European Community officials Friday adopted new maximum radiation levels for imported food, Reuter reported from Brussels. The new standards are 370 becquerels per kilogram (2.2 pounds) for milk and baby products and 600 becquerels for other foods.
Soviet authorities have repeatedly said that all produce from the affected areas is thoroughly checked, first in the fields and again in the shops. Monitoring is also going on at the markets where farmers sell their own produce, they say.
The tests done by the western embassies indicated that there are cracks in the system. For instance, flowers sold by people getting off trains from the country are virtually unregulated. West German officials found surface radiation on lilacs bought outside a station where trains arrive from Byelorussia.
The most damaging evidence until today was from the Americans because the milk they checked was state-produced and bought at a special store for foreigners. Tests run in Washington on one of two milk samples sent from Moscow in the last three weeks revealed 3,600 picocuries of radiation. There are 27 becquerels in a picocurie.
The level is well below the danger level for adults, but above the norm of 1,200 picocuries. When the results of the test arrived last Saturday, the embassy decided immediately to alert pregnant women and small children not to drink Soviet milk.
It did not issue a general public statement to avoid "inflating" the information, a spokesman said. "It wasn't considered a press story," said a spokesman.
Nonetheless, in Tuesday's Sovyetskaya Rossiya, an article appeared accusing the embassy of creating "malicious rumors" about milk so they would "seep" back into the Soviet Union via western radio broadcasts.
The article also quoted Soviet health officials as saying fears of contamination of milk have "absolutely no basis in reality."
In the meantime, other embassies have repeated the U.S. warning, although noting that the levels are still below what is called the "worry line."
In fact, since the first week after the accident, most embassies have been quietly advising their citizens not to drink Soviet milk. The Japanese, for instance, have been flying in weekly shipments of free milk from Tokyo.
Even before the accident at Chernobyl, many westerners preferred ordering milk from elsewhere.
"All of [the Finnish community] are taking milk from Finland anyway," said a Finnish Embassy spokesman. "Finns use so much milk, and they like their own."
Different embassies have come up with their own guidelines, and their own systems of checking. The Finns, for instance, are telling people not to drink milk or eat leafy vegetables from within 300 miles of Chernobyl.
The West Germans have a dosimeter at the embassy that is available for people to use to check their groceries.
The lilac reading was taken off flowers bought outside the Byelorussian station. It showed 2,000 becquerels. Since the "worry line" in becquerels is 500, the figure was high enough to warrant a recommendation to stay away from lilacs. Similar readings were found on roses, but the reading on radish tops was only 150 becquerels.
Western families, particularly those with small children, have, in some cases, decided on their own to stop buying Soviet produce, for fear that items with high levels of radioactivity have slipped through the government controls. Most are ordering food from Finland.
No one doubts that the Soviets are scrutinizing their own produce, and controlling goods coming from the Ukraine and Byelorussia. But some basic information is missing.
"We don't know where the worry line is for the Soviets," said one western diplomat. "That makes it difficult. They say they are testing, but they don't say at what level."