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Japan dumps ‘unsafe’ Norway whale meat

Whale meat imported into Japan from Norway has been dumped after tests found it contained up to twice the permitted level of harmful pesticide, the government said Wednesday.

Japan dumps 'unsafe' Norway whale meat
The Norwegian whaler 'Senet' pulls aboard a 25 foot Minke whale in the North Sea, 1994. Photo: NTB Scanpix

The announcement came after Western environmentalists first exposed the issue, in the latest salvo of a battle that pits Japan against many of its usual allies, such as Australia and New Zealand.

An official at Japan's health ministry said whale meat was subject to extensive routine tests before and after import.

"We conduct strict checking because whales tend to collect contaminants in the environment such as pesticides and heavy metals," he said

He added that tests on Norwegian whale meat imported in April showed 0.2 parts per million of aldrin and dieldrin combined, in addition to 0.07 ppm of chlordane. Meat that arrived in June was found to have 0.2 ppm of dieldrin.

Japan's safety limits for the pesticides are 0.1 ppm for aldrin and dieldrin combined, and 0.05 ppm for chlordane, the official said.

In both cases the order was given for the contaminated meat to be abandoned, ministry data showed.

The official said such discoveries have not led to a halt or a scaling down of imports from Norway. He noted that imports from Norway have increased in recent years, but did not give detailed figures.

"There are very few countries where people still consume whale meat, so the food products are traded among those few countries," he said.

Grethe Bynes from the Norwegian Food Safety Authority said in-country tests on whale meat showed "only low levels".

"As we see it, it is safe to eat whale meat in Norway," she said.

The issue was raised by activists at the Environmental Investigation Agency and the Animal Welfare Institute, who also said international trade in the mammal's meat was being artificially stimulated.

"Norwegian demand for whale meat has fallen in recent years," the groups said in a statement.

"To boost domestic sales, and with an eye on new export markets, both the Norwegian government and its whaling industry are subsidising research, development and marketing of new whale-derived products."

Japan has used a legal loophole in the International Whaling Commission's (IWC's) 1986 whaling ban that allows it to continue slaughtering the animals ostensibly to gather scientific data.

But it has never made a secret of the fact that the whale meat from these hunts often ends up on dining tables.

However, consumption of whale meat in Japan has steadily and significantly fallen in recent years and there is little support for whaling itself, although a confrontational campaign by animal rights activists has galvanized some support for the practice.

Japan cancelled its 2014/15 Antarctic whaling hunt for the first time in more than a quarter of a century after a UN court ruled last year that the
programme was a commercial activity disguised as science.

Iceland and Norway issue commercial permits under objections or reservations registered against the IWC's whaling ban, and together catch
hundreds of whales per year.

POLLUTION

Plastic-free effort at royal residence failed: Crown Princess

Norway’s Crown Princess Mette-Marit has said that she failed in an experiment to cut out the use of plastic at the royal residence at Skaugum near Oslo.

Plastic-free effort at royal residence failed: Crown Princess
Crown Princess Mette-Marit. Photo: Torstein Bøe / NTB scanpix

The Crown Princess says that she and other members of the royal family remain concerned over plastics pollution, reports broadcaster NRK.

“I made an effort to make Skaugum plastic free last year, and it didn’t go so well. I think it was incredibly difficult. It was an experiment to see how normal consumers can avoid using plastics,” Crown Princess Mette-Marit told NRK.

Known for her interest in the environment, the Crown Princess and other royals have previously been involved in initiatives to removed litter from beaches in Norway.

“The experiment inspired me to think about when plastic is a necessary product, and when it actually is not. We are in no way perfect, but I think that it is important to try and reduce the use of plastic in any case,” she said.

Plastic packaging with food and electronics products was the most difficult to avoid, according to the princess.

In interviews recorded by NRK with senior members of Norway’s royal family, King Harald described as a “wake-up call” the sight near Bergen earlier this year of a whale that had become ill after ingesting plastic.

After being forced to put down the whale, researchers found 30 plastic bags and large amounts of microplastics in the animal’s stomach.

Environmental organisation Grid has estimated that around 350 million tonnes of plastic are produced annually worldwide, with drastic increases forecast in the coming years.

15 tonnes are estimated to be dumped into the sea every minute, writes NRK.

Marine biologist Per-Erik Schulze of the Norwegian Society for the Conservation of Nature (Naturvernforbundet) told the broadcaster that the issue was critical.

“Every single minute an amount equivalent to several waste disposal trucks full of plastic goes into the sea. We can observe that it is building up and is not broken down. That cannot continue,” Schulze said.

“Several researchers say that plastic is a type of environmental pollutant. An environmental pollutant is defined as something that is persistent and difficult to break down. It is then ingested by organisms and causes harm in various ways,” he continued. 

READ ALSO: Four out of five Norwegian mussels contain plastic: report