There has been a significant number of studies on the diet of the Greenlandic Inuit in a changing environment, both examining the value of a marine based diet and the modern problems of contamination . NAMMCO (2007) considered a paper, ‘Expert Meeting on Potential Positive Effects of Consuming whale and Seal Oil; Deutch et al (2007) note that ‘Based upon the dietary comparison between traditional food samples from 1976 and samples of a modern composition from 2004, and between the different groups of local food indicated by n-3 intake, our overall conclusion is that a diet with a high percentage of Greenlandic food items in general provides sufficient vitamin and mineral coverage. However, there are a few exceptions namely Ca, Mg, vitamin C, E, and folate. It also appears that a diet with an average percentage of Greenlandic food of 20-40% (the present country mean) will meet the NNR for most nutrients. In contrast to this, basing a diet exclusively on available Danish import products can be a risky situation in Greenland, since general availability and freshness is not always guaranteed. A diet with very high percentage of Greenlandic food imposes a strong risk of deficiency in Ca, vitamin C and folate and it also has a very low content of dietary fibre. We don’t recommend to increase the consumption of Greenlandic products in general above the present level.’
Møller states that ‘the population of Greenland has recently gone through a rapid change in diet, moving away from a traditional marine diet to a more western-like diet, based on imported foodstuffs. This dietary transition is mainly driven by the general socio-cultural changes linked to a more western-like life-style, but awareness of contamination of the marine food sources may also decrease the intake of the traditional food items.’
Whilst consumption of Greenlandic local foods per person have decreased it is also the case that consumption of local foods is not uniform across Greenland Gert Mulvad , notes that ‘The proportion of marine mammals, fish and birds in the diet varies throughout Greenland according to the region and the village. Each town has actually a different diet from the others. On average in Greenland 75% of the calorie intake comes from imported food and 25% from local food. The Eskimo diet today is imported!’
A poll of Greenlandic Inuit (Grieffenberg et al) shows just how different consumption patterns can be. When asked the number of times a month that a meal of either seal or whale meat is consumed, Inuit with few Danish ties living outside of towns responded that they eat such meals 22.6% of the time, whilst Inuit with few Danish ties living in towns/cities do so 11.8% of the time. For Inuit with stronger Danish ties, that number drops still further to 7.6%.
Despite the requests for whale quota increases, patterns of consumption of whale meat as part of the Inuit diet in Greenland have remained unchanged. In response to a 1993 poll on dietary prefences, the percentage of Inuit eating whale meat at least once a week was 26.9% (n=1371). A similar poll over the course of 2005 to 2007 (n=2245) showed that only 27.2% ate whale once a week. In comparison, the intake of reindeer meat rose from 10.9% to 21%. As the authors of the study stated, “for whales there is no statistical difference between the two studies”.
I believe that when granting quotas, the IWC should be aware of how the ‘needs statement’ has been arrived at and should insist that it is based on actual populations of true Inuit peoples that have a ‘continuous nutritional and cultural need’. Whilst WDCS does not advocate the consumption of any foodstuffs that increase health risks to any one population, I also believe that the nature of changes in the Inuit diet within Greenland should be considered carefully.
The estimate of nutritional ‘need’ should therefore be based on actual consumption and not on some artificial optimized level of consumption.
Population estimates on which need is calculated should not include immigrants that have arrived into Greenland and do not have a ‘continuous nutritional and cultural need’ for whale meat
Møller P. Johansen P and Hellgren L. I. ‘Nutritional lipid quality of West Greenland marine species’, available in Møller, P. (2006) (Page 131) Lipids and stable isotopes in marine food webs in West Greenland. Trophic relations and health implications. PhD thesis. National Environmental Research Institute, Denmark. 212 pp. English version: http://www2.dmu.dk/1_viden/2_Publikationer/3_Ovrige/rapporter/PM_PhD.pdf. Møller writing in his 2006 PhD thesis further notes that the natural contaminant levels (PCBs, DDT, DDEs and heavy metals) in dietary intake in the Inuit population have actually decreased between 1976 and 2004. Møller notes that ‘From this it is evident that consumption of locally produced food has decreased in Greenland during the last 30 years and this has led to a reduction in the daily intake of contaminants. However, the concentrations of contaminants in local food items have not decreased, except for PCB and lead.’
Gert Mulvad, Centre for Primary Health Care, Nuuk, (2007) NAMMCO Accessed on the 28th April 2009 at http://www.nammco.no/Nammco/Mainpage/Publications/Miscellaneous/expert_meeting_on_potential_possitive_health_effects_of_marine_mammals_oils.html
Grieffenberg,T.,Bjerregaard,P (eds) Folkesundhed I Gronland. Inussuk-Arktisk Forskningsjournal 1. 2004. p 115.
Bjerregaard P, Dahl-Petersen IK (eds.). Befolkningsundersøgelsen i Grønland 2005-2007. Levevilkår, livsstil og helbred. København, SIF’s Grønlandsskrifter 18, 2008. p.99.