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Japanese Health Ministry to Investigate Whale Products

“Rising public fear over the possibility that eating whale products may put humans at risk has led the Japanese Health Ministry to launch an unprecedented investigation.

Japan’s Ministry of Health and Welfare will bow to pressure from Japanese consumer groups and examine a selection of whales, caught in waters around the world, for levels of toxicity.

The Government’s decision is long overdue, research conducted by Japanese scientists over the last 20 years has shown many species of cetaceans to be heavily contaminated with both heavy metals such as mercury, and organic compounds including pesticides such as DDT.

Another study undertaken in 1999 by a number of foreign scientific institutions including the Universities of Greenwich and Harvard, suggested more than half the whale, dolphin and porpoise meat sold in Japan was so highly contaminated that it was unfit for human consumption, and that a quarter was mislabelled and misinformed the public.

The study carried out by the Health Ministry will cover 80 animals from five species – Baird’s beaked whales, bottlenose dolphins and Dall’s porpoises killed in coastal hunts, and minke and sperm whales captured in Japan’s Scientific Research Programmes in the North Pacific and Antarctic Oceans.

It has been reported that Ministry sources have admitted eating whale meat can be hazardous to human health and have said that depending on the research results, due out next spring, the Ministry may decide to issue guidelines on how to process and cook whale meat.

These guidelines are little more than a precautionary measure most likely because whale meat remains a popular dish. According to Government figures, approximately 20,000 dolphins and porpoises are killed in Japanese coastal waters each year and sold for human consumption. This figure does not include around 550 minke whales killed in the Antarctic and North Pacific.

First seen in The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society newsletter