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Thursday, 6 July, 2000, 10:42 GMT 11:42 UK
DNA tracking for whale meat
Whale meat on sale
Whale meat remains highly prized in Japan
New methods of using DNA to track the sale of illegal whale meat have been discussed by delegates to the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

The talks came on the final day of the commission's four-day meeting in Adelaide, South Australia.

They follow reports that meat from protected species like hump backs, Brydes, sperm and grey whales have been found in Japanese markets, prompting the commission to look at improved methods of tracking the meat from ship to shore.

There is pressure on the IWC to crack down on illegal whaling
By testing for the distinct genetic fingerprint of each species, scientists will be able to judge not only which type of whale the meat came from but also which part of the world and which stock.

At present, only the meat from minke whales that are taken as part of Japan's controversial research programme can be legally sold, the proceeds of which Japan says help to pay for the research.

States who have called on the IWC to put the scheme into operation worldwide believe DNA tracing is the only effective way to crack down on the trade.

Deep divisions

However, as with many decisions at the IWC, opinion was divided between the pro- and anti-whaling nations, with Japan and Norway successfully resisting attempts to set up external international inspection of their own markets.

Vessel BBC
Japan has continued whaling under the banner of research
The four-day gathering of whaling's governing body has seen deep divisions between the two factions, leading to deadlock when it comes to taking any major decisions.

Originally set up to regulate commercial whaling, the body introduced a moratorium on hunting in 1986, much to the anger of Norway and Japan.

That agreement is now under intense pressure, with a block of six Caribbean nations and a new member, Guinea, supporting Japanese and Norwegian efforts to lift the ban.

Whale sanctuary

Blow AP
Many species have yet to recover to sustainable levels
In recent years, the anti-whaling faction has itself split between a group led by Ireland - who favour a compromise that would see the reintroduction of limited coastal whaling - and those like the UK, the US and Australia, who want to see a total worldwide ban.

Now, many of the commission's proposals, like the establishment of a whale sanctuary in the South Pacific, risk falling foul of factional politics.

Burdened with a constitution drafted in the 1940s, the commission has found it impossible to reach a consensus on wholesale reform.

The continuing deadlock has led some environmental groups to complain that the pro-whaling nations are gaining the upper hand by sidelining the IWC and eroding its authority.

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See also:

04 Jul 00 | Sci/Tech
Whale sanctuary rejected
03 Jul 00 | Sci/Tech
Minke whale numbers 'declining'
11 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Whaling ban set to end
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