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Wednesday, 24 January, 2001, 09:10 GMT
Japan warned on 'contaminated' blubber
Pro-whaling demo in japan AP
Japan catches whales itself, and would like some of Norway's
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

A Norwegian official has warned Japan to beware the whale blubber it plans to import from the Scandinavian country.

The official, Kistin Farden of the state Food Control Authority, said she thought the blubber could contain high levels of contamination.

She expressed particular concern about levels of PCBs, chemicals which have been linked to cancer and other damage in animals and humans.

Answering questions from the UK's Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS), she said she would advise against eating large quantities of blubber until it could be proved that it was not contaminated with PCBs.

Export ban

Ms Faerden said the Norwegian Government would be studying blubber samples to test the levels of environmental toxins. It has already analysed samples of whale meat.

Greenpeace and norway whaler PA
Norway's whalers attract opposition
She said she expected the blubber to contain "much, much higher concentrations", because contaminants of that sort tended to bind with fat and so would concentrate in the blubber.

Ms Faerden added that it would be no surprise to find PCBs, given the nature of whale biology and their feeding habits.

The Norwegian Government decided to lift its ban on the export of whale meat and blubber a week ago. Japan - which also hunts whales - welcomed the decision.

Average concentration

But the move was criticised by environmentalists, who said some of the meat would come from endangered species.

Man leaves restaurant AP
Japan has dedicated whale restaurants
The Norwegian Foreign Minister, Thorbjoern Jagland, defended the move, saying the current levels of the hunted species were good enough to allow the exports.

Most of the exports are expected to go to Japan. Mr Jagland said that as Norwegians ate the meat from whales, while the Japanese considered the fatty outer layer of blubber a delicacy, it would be wasteful not to export it.

Japanese consumer groups say studies by the National Veterinary Institute in Oslo and the Norwegian College of Veterinary Medicine have found the average concentration of PCBs in north-east Atlantic minke whales to be 3.8 parts per million (ppm).

Food chain

The provisional regulatory standard for PCBs in marine products in Japan is much lower, at 0.5 ppm.

"PCBs are considered to be highly toxic, and once in the food chain they are extremely persistent," said Mark Simmonds, director of science at the WDCS.

They can affect the human nervous, immune and reproductive systems."

Kate O'Connell of WDCS said: "While we are pleased that there has been a recommendation to the Norwegian people not to ingest large quantities of whale blubber, WDCS calls on the Norwegian Government to immediately rescind its support of exports of whale products."

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11 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
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