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  The Guardian 5 Sep 07
Japanese schoolchildren fed toxic dolphin meat
Justin McCurry in Tokyo Guardian Unlimited

Japan Times 6 Sep 07
Media ignoring mercury-tainted dolphin meat: assemblyman

By Jun Hongo Staff writer

PlanetArk 2 Aug 07
Whalemeat in Japanese School Lunches Found Toxic

TOKYO - Whalemeat served in school lunches in an area of rural Japan are contaminated with alarming levels of mercury, a local assemblyman said on Wednesday, calling for a halt in plans for the meat to be shipped to schools nationwide.

Hisato Ryono, a assemblyman in Taiji, a historic whaling town some 450 km (280 miles) west of Tokyo, said two samples of short-finned pilot whale had mercury levels 10 to 16 times more than advised by the Health Ministry. The samples, bought from two local supermarkets, also had 10-12 times more methyl mercury than advised levels, he said.

Ryono and a fellow assemblyman conducted tests after local authorities ignored their calls to have the whalemeat inspected before it was served in school lunches in the town's kindergartens and elementary and junior high schools.

"We were shocked that it continued to be served in school lunches," Ryono told Reuters by phone.

"We are not calling for the town to stop whaling. But there are plans to ship the whalemeat to schools nationwide, and we want to stop that, or at least have it tested first."

While meat from the short-finned pilot whale -- part of the dolphin family -- is currently only served in schools in Taiji, plans are under way for it to be shipped to schools across the country from the whale-hunting season starting in September, he said.

Other types of whalemeat are already served in school lunches nationwide, including in Tokyo.

Local authorities, including the town's school board, could not be reached for comment.

Activists have said in the past that some whale meat sold in Japanese supermarkets may be contaminated with hazardous levels of mercury, cancer-causing PCBs or heavy metals.

Japan abandoned commercial whaling in accordance with an international moratorium in 1986 but conducts what it calls "scientific research" whaling every year and is pushing for the resumption of commercial whaling.

Japan Times 6 Sep 07
Media ignoring mercury-tainted dolphin meat: assemblyman

By Jun Hongo Staff writer

The Japanese media's lack of condemnation is the principal reason mercury-tainted dolphin meat continues to be consumed, including in school lunches, a local assembly member from Wakayama Prefecture said Monday.

Junichiro Yamashita of the Taiji Municipal Assembly criticized the nation's media for their reluctance to report the hazards of dolphin meat, even though samples from local supermarkets have contained mercury levels 10 times above the health ministry's advisory limit.

"The media have concerns because such information can impact the fishing industry in Taiji," Yamashita told a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo.

"But it is problematic that local residents, including parents of schoolchildren, remain unaware of the issue."

The Japan Times has been continuously covering the issue, and its Aug. 1 revelation of the mercury risk in school lunches became part of the reason for Yamashita's news conference Monday.

Approximately 2,300 out of an estimated 20,000 dolphins hunted annually in Japan are slaughtered at the fishing town of Taiji, located on the Kii Peninsula, Yamashita said.

While some are sent to overseas aquariums, others are butchered and the meat is sold in local supermarkets in packages of approximately 170 per 100 grams.

Dolphin is available in supermarkets in Taiji, Yamashita said, adding that some 150 kg was served last year in school lunches in the area.

Although not customary to most Japanese, the tradition of consuming whales and dolphins, typically in a miso-flavored stew, has continued for more than 400 years.

But the independent politician said he was "shocked" when a meat sample taken from a local supermarket in June revealed high levels of mercury and methylmercury.

The test results showed dolphin meat possessed mercury 10 times above the health ministry's advisory level of 0.4 parts per million, while the level of methylmercury was 10.33 times higher than the ministry's advisory level of 0.3 ppm, Yamashita said.

While no health impact has been reported, the numbers exceeded some of the examinations conducted on seafood that caused the Minamata mercury-pollution disaster in the 1950s, Yamashita said.

Despite the results, he said he has been unsuccessful in persuading Taiji to restrain sales of the meat or get local residents to stop consuming it.

The town has chosen to expand dolphin use in school lunches while proposing to construct a new dolphin and whale slaughterhouse, for some 330 million, to "popularize the consumption of dolphins in the country," Yamashita revealed.

"It is a serious concern that such meat is being served in school lunches."

He acknowledged that sounding the alarm could threaten the economy of the small fishing town known as the birthplace of Japan's whaling industry, and some of his assembly colleagues have cold-shouldered him since he revealed the toxic levels.

Many fishermen have also been acting differently, he added.

But despite the resistance, the media must lead the way and blow the whistle to prevent a mercury pollution disaster, Yamashita said. "The health ministry may not be taking this problem seriously now, but once the information spreads, the country will have to face the issue," he said.

The Guardian 5 Sep 07
Japanese schoolchildren fed toxic dolphin meat
Justin McCurry in Tokyo Guardian Unlimited

Councillors from the home of the Japan's whaling industry have revealed that schoolchildren in the area have been served dolphin meat containing dangerous levels of mercury, prompting warnings of a potential public health disaster as the country attempts to boost consumption of cetacean meat.

In a rare departure from the official line that the meat is safe and nutritious, two assembly members from Taiji in Wakayama prefecture broke ranks to say that tests on samples of short-finned pilot whales - a type of large dolphin, despite its name - had found mercury levels 10 to 16 times higher than those advised by the health ministry.

"In kindergartens, elementary schools and middle schools, children are served the meat two or three times a month, but their parents believe that it comes from whales caught in the Antarctic. They seem to be unaware that their children are eating these pilot whales," said Hisato Ryono, who described the meat as "toxic waste".

In some cases the mercury levels were higher than those recorded in seafood affected in the infamous Minamata mercury poisoning case, which has been responsible for the deaths of 1,700 people since the 1950s.

Mercury poisoning can damage the nervous system and internal organs and is known to be dangerous to the foetus.

One of the Taiji samples, bought from two local supermarkets, contained almost 16 times more mercury than the ministry's accepted level of 0.4 parts per million, the councillors said. The same sample also contained 12 times more methyl mercury than is deemed acceptable.

Meat from the dolphins is currently only served in Taiji, about 280 miles west of Tokyo, but authorities plan to go ahead with the construction of a 330m (1.4m) dolphin processing plant that will ship meat to other parts of the country as part of efforts to boost domestic consumption, particularly among children.

Mr Ryono and his colleague, Junichiro Yamashita, decided to go public with their findings after Taiji authorities ignored their requests to have the meat inspected before it was served in school lunches.

Their claims, however, have been ignored by most of the country's media.

"The media have concerns because such information can have an impact on the fishing industry in Taiji," Mr Yamashita said. "But it is a problem because local residents, including the parents of schoolchildren, remain unaware [of the dangers]."

They warned that other dolphin and whale meat is unlikely to be safe for human consumption. "I believe that pollution in the sea around Japan is the cause of this," Mr Ryono said.

"The fish are contaminated with mercury and then eaten by whales as part of the food cycle. The levels rise because whales accumulate mercury."

The claims come as Taiji prepares for its annual dolphin cull.

The town slaughters about 2,300 of the 20,000 dolphins killed in Japanese waters every year over the next six months. In a practice condemned as barbaric by animal rights campaigners, fishermen drive pods of dolphins towards the shore and spear or hack then to death.

Although the councillors say they do not oppose traditional whale and dolphin hunting, they have been shunned by fellow assembly members since going public with their findings.

"The health ministry may not be taking this problem seriously but once the information spreads, the country will have to face the issue," Mr Yamashita said.

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