A ban on food and water from Japan, more radiation monitoring, soil and irrigation water sampling, and more money for food inspections are needed to protect against radiation emissions crossing the Pacific, says Food & Water Watch (F&WW).

In a letter to President Obama, the Washington, D.C.-based consumer group laid out four steps it said are necessary “to deal with this emerging threat to our food supply.”

The letter, signed by Wenonah Hunter, F&WW’s executive director, acknowledges that radioactive emissions from Japan detected throughout the  United States have been “at low levels.”  She does note, however, that the presence of radioactive iodine has been detected for the first time since the Chernobyl accident  35 years ago.

On Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration reported that a small amount — 5,000 times smaller than the level required to take action — had been detected in milk from Spokane, WA. FDA said such trace amounts are not harmful to adults or children, and that we experience background radiation every day — from watching TV, flying in airplanes, or from construction materials.

Hunter says a 2006 report by the National Academies of Science concluded that low levels of radiation can cause human health problems, including cancer, health disease or immune disordered.  She says children are most susceptible.

“Tests in Japan have already found eleven types of vegetables to contain levels of radioactive iodine exceeding national standards by as much as a factor of seven, as well as milk that contains radiation,” Hunter wrote.

(Others, like NPR, have pointed out that the tainted Japanese milk would only be dangerous if you drank 58,000 glasses of it.)

E&WW said 20 of the Environmental Protection Agency’s 124 air monitoring sites were not functioning properly for some period of time after the accident.  Four EPA monitors in California were not functioning.

The federal government does not have a monopoly in radiation monitoring.  States, universities, and utilities in addition to individual citizens do it.  Mostly volunteers run the private Radiation Network, which provides 24/7 real time reporting.

Hunter acknowledges that  U.S. food and water imports from Japan are small by percentage bases but she says they are still “not an insignificant amount.”  According to F&WW, the U.S. imported 150 million pounds of food from Japan in 2010, including 600,000 pounds of crab and anchovies and 5 million gallons of bottled water, soft drinks, and other non-alcoholic water.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already banned imports from the prefectures (counties) around Japan’s damaged nuclear reactors.  

“A more thorough action would be an outright ban on all good from Japan until the nuclear accident is under control and data shows that food proceeding regions of the county are no longer contaminated, ” F&WW told Obama.

So, far it appears F&WW is alone is calling for an outright ban of Japanese food.  Other countries that have announced how they are going to handle Japanese imports are following FDA’s approach.