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Belarus exports its radioactive mushrooms to EU, says official

Tons of radioactive mushrooms are routinely exported from Belarus to European Union nations, a Belarusian official said Monday. Relatively high EU maximums for mushroom contamination by isotopes of Strontium, a radioactive element, make 'substantial volumes' of fungus illegal for consumption in Belarus but a saleable delicacy in the West, said Yakov Kenigsberg, chairman of Belarus' National Commission for Radioactive Protection.

The former Soviet republic was badly hit by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power accident, and an estimated one quarter of its territory contains lingering effects from the nuclear reactor meltdown. Thick forests and swamps prevalent in Belarus are ideal conditions for mushrooms, and local businessmen are doing a thriving business collecting Belarusian mushrooms and selling them largely to Polish traders, Kenigsberg claimed.

'The Poles are buying Chanterelles containing high dosages of radiation, because in the EU these mushrooms are not considered radioactive,' he said. Belarusian standards of acceptable radiation are among the world's most stringent, in large part in response to fallout from the Chernobyl accident. Mushrooms are relatively resistant to lingering radiation, absorbing deadly gamma rays rather than dying from them.

The most tradeable mushroom is, according to Kenigsberg, the Golden Chanterelle (Latin: Cantharellus Subalbidus), an orange or yellow mushroom known for a fruity smell and mild peppery taste. Trade between Poland and Belarus is limited primarily to small- scale import and export, frequently with Belarusian agricultural or forest products exchanged for Polish consumer goods.


Publication date: 4/22/2008


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