Protective measures for primary food production in a nuclear or radiological emergency, Protection of animals and animal production

Publish date: December 1/2022

Guide: 7436/

Preparing for nuclear or radiological emergencies is important to protect a safe and secure food chain. In primary food production, relatively small measures are efficient in preventing the contamination of food or their raw ingredients in the event of a nuclear or radiological emergency.

Even if external radiation dose rates do not rise much above the normal prevailing radiation level during a nuclear or radiological emergency, foodstuffs may eventually contain enough radioactive material to exceed accepted levels, thereby preventing them from being placed on the market. In the event of a nuclear or radiological emergency, the protection of primary food and animal feed production should be initiated as soon as possible. Protective measures must be in place before radioactive materials arrive in the region. Radioactive iodine, for example, is rapidly transferred into milk if cattle are fed contaminated feed. The more comprehensive and efficient the protective measures, the smaller the harm caused by a nuclear or radiological emergency. Furthermore, after the passing of a radioactive plume, various measures aimed at the cleanliness of primary food produce may be required in the contaminated area.

These guidelines provide a concise description of the available measures in primary food production to prepare for nuclear or radiological emergencies. Instructions on the protective measures (e. g., cleaning) to be taken before the arrival and after the passing of a radioactive plume are given separately. Different actions suitable for each type of farm should be considered in advance – not when a nuclear or radiological incident has already occurred.

It is essential to ensure that each farm has the necessary protective equipment, including:

  • respirators and protective clothing for workers;
  • plastic sheets, tarpaulins, protective covers;
  • filters suitable for ventilation systems/ filter cloth, fibre glass, rock wool
  • sealing tape
  • cloths and other materials suitable for cleaning

More information on protective actions in primary food production is available in the STUK publication Protective actions in a nuclear or radiological emergency.

Protective actions to be taken before the arrival of a radioactive plume help prevent contamination. Contamination can be thought of as very fine, invisible dust from which people, animals, plants, animal feed and foodstuffs must be protected. In primary food protection, protective actions are aimed at workers, production animals, feeds, animal drinking water, production facilities and plantations. After the passing of a radioactive plume, essential measures include those preventing the contamination of primary produce by radioactive fallout on the soil and other surfaces. These measures include the cleaning of production facilities and ensuring the safety of production animal feeds and products.

Protective actions and other measures should be taken only at the instruction of authorities and based on their recommendations but without endangering animal welfare. Naturally, protective actions should be initiated independently as soon as information of a potential nuclear or radiological emergency threatening the region is received. Authorities monitor nuclear or radiological emergencies and issue guidelines and recommendations on what actions must be taken, when, and in which areas. Food safety authorities will issue more specific instructions on protective actions as necessary. Information about the division of tasks and responsibilities between different agencies is available in the Ministry of the Interior publication Säteilytilanneohje (in Finnish; Guidelines for nuclear or radiological emergencies).

Protective actions taken before the arrival of radioactive plume in the region

  • all animals – including breeding cows, sheep and horses – must be brought indoors (if possible) or to a smaller enclosure. It must be ensured that they have access to clean feed and water so that products obtained from the animals remain viable
  • a 2–3-day contingency of coarse and concentrated feed is reserved for animals
  • the space for animals to move in loose housing is restricted and the open walls or other unsheltered areas of the remaining space are covered with, for example, tarpaulin
  • the ventilation of animal shelters is reduced or fully shut down, if possible, without endangering animal welfare; if necessary, the supply air may be filtered (with an effective supply air filter, filter cloth, glass wool, rock wool, etc. )
  • superfluous entrances to animal shelters are closed; the sealing of windows and doors is secured with e. g., tape
  • pets kept outdoors are brought indoors or, if this is not possible, their pens are protected with a cover
  • stored animal feed is protected with tarpaulin or silage sheets
  • reserves of clean feed are kept indoors if possible; outdoor feed stacks and bales must not be opened while a radioactive plume is passing the region
  • silos are shut down and hatches are sealed if necessary; any machinery and equipment used in distributing the feed must also be protected if possible
  • wells are protected as necessary with tarpaulin (tap water and water from a carefully maintained well will remain safe in the early stage of a nuclear or radiological emergency; any possible contamination happens with a delay)
  • any animal drinking water collected in an open container (e. g. , rainwater) must be covered. If the water from small ponds is used as drinking water, a contingency of 2–3 days should be reserved in a protected container
  • animal feed stored outside is protected; plastic membranes (e. g. , on wrapped bales) offer relatively good protection against radioactive fallout . Additional protection is added as necessary with extra covers as handling bales is easier if their surfaces are not contaminated
  • clean animal feed growing in the fields is harvested for safekeeping if possible

Protective actions carried out after the passing of a radioactive plume

  • animals are kept outdoors for as short a period as possible; animals are not allowed onto pastures; if necessary, production animals are cleaned to remove fallout dust
  • animal shelters and feed storage spaces are aired and cleaned and any surfaces wiped down as necessary to remove fallout dust; respirators and protective clothing are worn during cleanout, followed by a thorough shower
  • in spaces where ventilation has been active during the passing of a radioactive plume, air filters are replaced
  • rainwater collected during a nuclear or radiological emergency must not be used as drinking water for animals
  • unprotected animal feed must not be used until the cleanliness of the feed has been confirmed; if necessary, animal feed sourced from outside the contaminated area must be used, e. g., industrially produced feed. Animals must always be provided with sufficient feed. If clean feed is unavailable, contaminated feed is provided (with the surface layer of unprotected feed removed).
  • animals are milked as usual; contaminated milk is stored in, for example, farm tanks or liquid manure containers
  • if necessary, the amount of feeding is reduced to scale down milk production
  • to prevent the absorption of radioactive materials, animal feed additives approved for this purpose may be used
  • pets contaminated with radioactive materials after being taken outdoors must always be washed before allowing them indoors
  • slaughtering times are adjusted (if necessary)

Further information: