26 May 2003
faces high hurdles for Japan whale sales
By Elaine Lies
May 26 (Reuters) - Top Norwegian officials arrived in Japan on Monday
to promote their nation's seafood, but their long-term hopes to
sell whale meat could be scuppered by worries that the delicacy
is contaminated by toxic chemicals.
and Norway have been discussing whale imports for over a year, but
plans to resume the controversial trade were dealt a blow earlier
this month when Norwegian scientists ruled that whale blubber it
had hoped to sell to Japan contained dangerously high levels of
banned PCB chemicals.
or polychlorinated biphenyls, were formerly used in everything from
paint to plastics. They build up in fatty tissues and have been
linked to birth defects.
blubber contamination could cast a pall over talks on other whale
products, such as meat, that are likely to arise during the visit
of Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, who arrived on
Monday, and Fisheries Minister Svein Ludvigsen, who came on Sunday.
resumed the commercial hunting of minke whales in 1993, breaking
with an international moratorium. Sales of the creamy blubber --
some 500 tonnes of which are stored in freezer warehouses in Norway
-- were long seen as a potential gold mine if exported to Japan,
where it is a delicacy.
officials, though, say food safety is paramount.
all about safety," said a Fisheries Ministry official. "The
fact that they can't sell the blubber raises questions about the
rest of the meat.
trade is quite a big issue internationally and so we must proceed
was an important source of protein in an impoverished Japan after
World War Two, but has become a scarce, gourmet food in the last
few decades as prices rose and supplies fell.
reports -- denied by officials -- have said whale imports were planned
to bring down the price and spur consumption.
groups strongly oppose any imports.
only the blubber, but also the red meat is contaminated," said
Yoko Tomiyama, head of the Japan Consumers Union, citing a recent
Norwegian warning that pregnant women should not eat whale because
of high levels of toxic mercury.
should not be imported to Japan, and we have made our views clear
to the government."
abandoned commercial whaling in 1986 but carries out what it calls
scientific research whaling, with most of the meat from that research
ending up on restaurant tables and store shelves.
agrees with protecting endangered species but argues that others,
such as minkes, are numerous and not endangered. It has made numerous
attempts to reinstate commercial whaling and is set to do the same
at the meeting of the International Whaling Commission from June
official at the Fisheries Ministry said that while the subject of
whale imports could well come up during talks that include a meeting
with Japanese Agriculture Minister Yoshiyuki Kamei, any fast solution
won't just clear up quickly because the Norwegian Fisheries Minister
is here," he said. "This will take time."