Nuclear rice fears halt Japan trade

sushi_1934798c Fears that large amounts of rice in Japan may be contaminated with radioactivity saw the price of the staple grain soar 40pc on the first day of trading for the country’s new futures market.

Japan yesterday launched its first rice futures contract in 72 years, but trading had to be suspended on the Tokyo Grain Exchange as the price per contract shot up immediately.

The price of 60 kilograms of rice had a reference price of $13,700 (£8,399) for delivery in 2012 but it reached more than $19,210 on the Osaka exchange, which carried on trading.

There is concern that crops may be damaged by radioactivity in the wake of the nuclear accident at Fukushima earlier this year.

Japan has begun rice trading to try to open up the market and increase transparency in the trade of its staple foodstuff. Analysts are predicting that stockpiles of rice will be at their lowest level in four years in 2012.

The mood in Japan is nervous after it emerged that cattle has been fed rice straw contaminated by caesium. Some prefectures are currently banned from exporting beef.

The country’s Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry is currently working on plans to test all this season’s crops before they hit the supermarket shelves.

However, there are reports in Japanese media that people are hoarding "old" rice that was harvested before an earthquake and tsunami caused the nuclear leaks in March.

Analysts at Standard Chartered said fears of short supply were limited to Japan, as the rest of world market is in "robust" supply.

"For now, the big question for Japan will be how markets cope with a potentially smaller edible harvest after decades of trying to keep output in check," said Abah Ofon and Koun-Ken Lee.

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