Whalemeat in Japanese school lunches found toxic

TOKYO Wed Aug 1, 2007 9:23am EDT

A wholesaler prepares to sell whale meat at the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo December 12, 2006. 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. REUTERS/Kiyoshi Ota

A wholesaler prepares to sell whale meat at the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo December 12, 2006. 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.

Credit: Reuters/Kiyoshi Ota

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TOKYO (Reuters) - 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.

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