Warning over contaminated whale meat as Faroe Islands' killing continues

Faroese government accused of ignoring scientific evidence over safety of whale meat as record number of pilot whales are slaughtered

The Faroese government is putting the health of consumers at risk by allowing the sale and consumption of highly controversial whale meat to continue despite repeated scientific warnings over the foodstuff's high levels of contamination from mercury and other chemicals, pressure groups this week claimed.

The allegation came as it emerged that a record 1,115 pilot whales have been slaughtered on the Faroe Islands in 2010 so far - the largest quota recorded since 1996.

The hunt, which is carried out annually, is opposed by environmental and animal welfare campaigners who say the whale killing is cruel and unnecessary. The Faroese authorities maintain the hunt is sustainable and an important food source for the islands, a semi-autonomous region of Denmark situated 200 miles north of Scotland.

Due to their position near the top of the marine food chain, pilot whales accumulate higher levels of mercury contaminants and organochlorines - potentially harmful to human health - than creatures lower down the chain, according to activists.

In 2008 the Faroe Island’s chief physician, Dr. Pál Weihe, and chief medical officer, Dr. Høgni Debes Joensen, recommended that pilot whale meat should no longer be used for human consumption because of the significant threat it poses.

Research has suggested that consumption of contaminated whale products could have adverse effects on the development of the nervous system in foetal development, increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease and hypertension, and cause immune system defects.

The Faroese government acknowledges that pilot whale meat and blubber can have high levels of contamination, but recommends consumers be guided by advice it issued in 1998 stating that one or two pilot whale meals per month are safe to consume. It does advise that pregnant women, or those breast-feeding, should avoid pilot whale meat.

Jennifer Lonsdale, of the Environmental Investigation Agency, this week said: 'Hunts in 2010 have produced about 550 tonnes of pilot meat and blubber for the 49,000 islanders. This equates to 11kg for every islander, including babies – almost 1kg per month per person. This is about five times 1998’s supposedly safe consumption recommendations, and it completely ignores the more recent warning not to eat pilot whale at all.'

Because not everyone consumes pilot whale meat, the campaign group argues that some people will be consuming much larger amounts.

Earlier this year, a coalition of environment and animal welfare organisations called on the World Health Organisation to issue guidelines on the safe consumption of whale meat.

This latest clash over the health implications of pilot whale meat consumption is part of an ongoing conflict between Faroese whalers and campaigners who want to see the hunt outlawed.

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