Our Stolen Futurea book by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers



12 May 2003

Norway advises pregnant women against whale meat

By Alister Doyle

OSLO - Norwegian scientists dealt a blow to the nation's whalers at the start of annual hunts Monday by advising pregnant women not to eat whale meat because of high levels of toxic mercury.

The scientific panel, which recently ruled that blubber from minke whales contained dangerous levels of industrial chemicals known as PCBs, said that most people could keep eating the meat despite the traces of the toxic poison.

"Our advice is that pregnant women and mothers who are breast feeding should not eat whale meat," Janneche Utne Skaare, deputy director of the National Veterinary Institute and a scientist on the panel, told Reuters.

She said the advice, following a meeting on Monday and based on samples from 125 whales, was in line with recommendations to women to avoid certain types of fish including swordfish and large trout when pregnant or nursing.

Norway resumed commercial whaling in 1993, ignoring a world moratorium. The whaling season formally started on Monday with 34 boats entitled to harpoon 711 whales.

Jan Kristiansen, a whalers' leader, told NRK public radio that the meeting on mercury showed "unfortunate timing" for the whalers. Norwegian health authorities have to approve the scientists' recommendations.

Norway says minke whales, most often fried as steaks, are relatively plentiful in the North Atlantic and not threatened with extinction like other species including the giant blue whale.

Whales, the world's biggest mammals, are susceptible to picking up toxins like mercury or PCBs because they can live more than 20 years. The poisons get lodged in meat and fat.

Mercury is a naturally occurring element but can be released into the atmosphere by industry, especially by coal-fired power plants. Doctors say that even low concentrations can cause damage to the nervous system.

The tests showed that whale meat contained an average 0.25 microgram of mercury per kilo (2.2 pounds) and ranged from 0.01 micrograms to 0.80. A microgram is a millionth of a gram (0.03527 ounce).

Levels were highest in the North Sea and lowest in the Arctic Barents Sea. For fish, Norway has considered 0.50 micrograms of mercury as a safe limit.






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