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Norwegian Whale Blubber A Threat To Human Health

Amsterdam/Auckland 7 May 2002 - A report released today by Greenpeace reveals that whale blubber stored in Norway awaiting export to Japan is unfit for human consumption (1).

The report, written by independent scientists in Germany, concludes that the samples analysed are contaminated with halogenated-organic contaminants such as PCBs, DDT and brominated flame retardants (2).

"It would be irresponsible of the Norwegian Government to export whale blubber to Japan and irresponsible of the Japanese Government to sell it for food. It is unfit for human consumption and should be disposed of safely," said Thilo Maack, Greenpeace Oceans Campaigner.

"If someone ate a piece of whale blubber the size of my thumb, they would be dosing themselves many times over the advisory limits of some of the most toxic compounds known to humans."

Japan and Norway have been discussing a resumption in the whale trade following Norway's decision in January 2001 to lift its ban on whale exports. The Fisheries Agency of Japan applied to the Trade Ministry for permission to import whale meat from Norway, but as yet no shipments have been made.

Norway's decision to begin exporting whale meat and blubber to Japan has been fuelled by the desire of the Norwegian whalers to profit from the high prices paid for whale products on the luxury food market in Japan. The export of whale products runs contrary to the ban imposed by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Norwegian traders have stockpiled 1000 tonnes of whale blubber. Last year, the Japanese Government put two hundred tonnes of unsold whale meat and blubber in storage due to the declining market for whale products in Japan.

The report confirms the fears of environmentalists and Japanese consumer groups that whale products are unfit for eating (3).

"The presence of such toxic chemicals in whale blubber shows the extent to which our oceans are contaminated and underlines how vital it is that whales are protected from hunting, and that the current international trade ban remains intact.”

“The status of minke whales hunted by Norway is uncertain and these results show that whales are vulnerable not only to commercial whaling but also wider environmental threats," said Maack (4).

Editor's Notes:

(1) "Evaluation of Contaminants in Meat and Blubber of Minke Whales" - Dr. Martin Hassauer, Jan Oltmanns, Dr. Klaus Schneider of Forschungs- und Beratungsinstitut Gefahrstoffe GmbH.

(2) These are persistent organic pollutants (POPs), amongst the most toxic chemicals known to humankind. POPs are particularly resistant to natural breakdown and accumulate in the fatty tissues of humans and animals. Mammals higher up the food chain, such as whales, are particularly vulnerable to POPs. In 2001, world governments agreed that POPs must be eliminated from the planet under the Stockholm Convention.

(3) A Norwegian university study estimates that the export market could reach NKr50 million (US $5.5million), if 20 per cent of the whale catch and 100 per cent of the blubber were exported. Most of the meat would be exported to Japan, where blubber is considered a delicacy. In protest against Norway's resumption of whale trading, some airlines are refusing to carry the product." Quest Economics Database World of Information Country Report April 24, 2000.

(3) "It is very surprising that the Japanese are encouraging the eating of whale meat with shoppers queuing for free samples of canned whale stew, deep-fried whale meat and blubber recipes in downtown Tokyo," Dr. Stone said. "Unfortunately, what these unsuspecting consumers probably received was a cocktail of toxins and contaminants that have made their way into our seas and oceans, particularly during the last 50 years." Parliamentary Secretary for the Antarctic, Australia, Dr. Sharman Stone, Media Release, 12 April 2002.

(4) There is evidence that toxic pollution, ship noise, ozone depletion, global warming, and overfishing threaten whale populations. For more information see the Greenpeace report, “Whales In A Degraded Ocean” (available on the Greenpeace website).


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