You may have mixed opinions on the Wikileaks US cable releases, - whether they are in the public interest or just publicly interesting - a concept responsible journalists wrestle with all the time. However, there have been some 'revelations', or confirmations to some of us, of the true negotiating positions of several country delegations.
Of particular note is the backroom negotiating style of the US Government. It appears that the US, in trying to appease Japan into accepting a 'deal' that would allow for the legitimising of commercial whaling, sought to trade northern hemisphere humpback whales for Japan's compliance.
Despite being fully aware of the increased commercialisation of the Greenland hunt the US was willing to campaign for the killing of humpbacks in the northern hemisphere.
The US was desperately trying to get Iceland to reduce its self-allocated quota and was looking for issues that may engage Japan to ‘help’ deliver a deal.
The Cables report that Japan stated that there were factors outside the current ‘Future of the IWC’ [the deal] negotiations that would influence Japan's negotiating position and that the ‘First, a negative outcome in the vote at next year's  IWC intersessional meeting on Greenland's proposal to catch ten humpback whales could derail the work of the Support Group. …and another rejection at the IWC plenary meeting could make the overall compromise being discussed impossible.’
The US IWC Commissioner appointed by President Obama, Ms. Medina, is reported in the cables to have said that ‘she hopes to work out differences with the EU on Greenland's proposal on humpback whales prior to the March 2010 IWC intersessional meeting and include the issue in the overall agreement.’
Indeed, as the IWC meetings then revealed, the US played an important role in driving through the final Greenland whaling quota that included humpbacks.
What is also striking on reading the cables is that the US appears to have been mistakenly staking its negotiating position on the fact that Iceland was the only blocking player in their campaign to achieve a resumption of commercial whaling and Wikileaks reports that the US requested of the ‘MOFA [Japanese Fisheries Agency] State Secretary Fukuyama and Fisheries Agency Deputy Director General Yamashita to press Iceland to lower its proposed quota for whaling in order to facilitate an overall agreement on whaling’.
The US negotiating position was that for a resumption of whaling to be achieved, all that was needed was for all countries ‘to take [a] reasonable approach’ - very different to their public anti-whaling position.
The US negotiations with Japan about Iceland appear to have been predicated on the argument that Japan could not absorb all the whale meat that Iceland was taking, not that the hunt was irresponsible and should stop.
Whilst we welcome the recent moves in the US that may result in the USA certifying and sanctioning Iceland, one must question why the US, which has been publicly opposed to resumption in whale meat trade, appears to have been willing to open up discussions on trade, and we have to ask, were they implicitly ‘agreeing’ to accept future trade in whale products? Indeed, the US is reported to have said that it ‘did not recommend Japan take any measures to restrict trade’.
Humpbacks, future trade, one must question what was the US was not willing to negotiate away? Read the cables and see what you think.
I noted in February that WDCS continued to be concerned about the apparent self regulation that Sea World is able to exercise in the USA over its own health and safety regime.
We asked why a report, by the California state Department of Industrial Relations' Division of Occupational Safety and Health was released following the attack on a trainer by a killer whale at Sea World Adventure Park in San Diego in 2006 but that criticisms that it contained were retracted after only two days?
Would those criticisms if they had stood maybe have saved a life?
USA Today has now got hold of the full report and are asking the same questions.
Continue reading "SeaWorld and self regulation"
The citizens of Europe could find that they are inadvertently voting for a return to commercial whaling this week whether they like it or not.
In one of the most dramatic moves to remove the democratic rights of Europe’s citizens, European bureaucrats have created a procedural ‘Catch-22’, which means that a single pro-whaling country (Denmark) can now dictate the whole EU position on whaling. As a result, European citizens can no longer be assured that their elected governments are free to represent their views and, indeed, must go against their declared position to protect whales.
The whole shameful scenario is being played out at the International Whaling Commission’s (IWC) intersessional meeting in St. Petersburg, Florida, USA, on the 4th and 5th March. EU members have been legally advised that, if they cannot reach consensus on a proposal to increase Greenland’s quota by 10 humpback whales, they must abstain at the IWC meeting.
EU countries make up almost one third of the membership of the IWC and, because a vote of this type requires a three-quarter majority to pass, a mass abstention by the EU would almost certainly result in the proposal being adopted.
It's a farcical situation and the ludicrous EU voting system effectively means that the UK and other Members of the European Union who oppose Greenland’s proposal to hunt humpback whales can not act in the interests of whale conservation as their hands have been tied firmly behind their backs.
This is rule by brute bureaucratic force and Europe’s citizens have long opposed whaling but we now find ourselves forced into abdicating our strong, democratically established position because of the spurious guidance of unelected bureaucrats
There are also further reaching, and catastrophic consequences beyond this current proposal as the same situation is likely to arise at the annual IWC meeting in June when the IWC will consider a proposal to suspend the global moratorium and allow commercial whaling to resume.
We can only anticipate that the EU IWC Members will not be able to find consensus on this deeply controversial proposal. If they have to abstain en masse at the next IWC annual meeting (IWC62), and the proposal is adopted, the consequences for whales and the future of the IWC are devastating.
I bet they are all already preparing their press releases to try and sell the reasons why 'they had to vote for Greenland' in June 'why they had to vote for whaling'.
Well they don't have to!. They are hiding behind the voting process, with a few brave voices standing up to this bullying and threats. We know who is championing the whales and we know who is selling them out
We shall remember them
Pilot whale meat on sale in the Faroe Islands
Back in the mid 1990s, WDCS was looking at how we could help move the whaling debate forward and we decided to focus some efforts on the issue of food security. Not in the sense of how much food is out there, but how were the authorities in the so-called ‘whaling nations’ actually dealing with issues of potential contaminants in whale products.
What we found was staggering. It seemed that whilst there was a potential issue, the ‘red mist’ that seemed to come across the eyes of the various governments every time whaling was mentioned was blocking them seeing the emergent evidence regarding this area of threat.WDCS had originally looked at this issue in the Faroe Islands, where consumption of pilot whales and other toothed whales placed the local Faroese people potentially at threat from contaminants. Indeed in 1998, having recognized that environmental pollutants such as mercury (Hg) and PCBs enter the body of pregnant women via pilot whale products, causing potentially serious developmental damage to their infants, the government of the Faroe Islands issued the following recommendations to the public.
• Adults should only eat blubber and meat once or twice a month;
• Girls and women should not eat blubber until they have given birth to all their children;
• Meat should not be eaten within three months of planned pregnancy and not eaten at all by pregnant and nursing women; and
• Organs (e.g. liver and kidney) should not be eaten at all.
In June 1999 the New Scientist Magazine ran an article reporting that, ‘The study of children born in the Faroe Islands that previously revealed neurological problems linked to pollution exposure (the main dietary source of which was whale meat) has now discovered another impact on health. Further analysis of the data of the group of 917 children shows that those exposed to higher levels of mercury in the womb also had significantly higher blood pressure.’ WDCS’s Mark Simmonds was quoted as saying, ‘For many years the levels of pollutants in the pilot whales killed in the Faroe Islands have been known to be a considerable threat to the health of the islanders. Mercury and various organic pollutants exceed health safety standards. It should not therefore come as a surprise that health impacts can be detected.’
In 2008 the Faroese Health authorities finally moved to advise ‘Islanders to stop eating pilot whale meat immediately, because of dangers to their health’. The Faroese Prime Minister , Kaj Leo Johanessen issued an extremely brief statement regarding the situation: which appeared to say that ‘The Faroese PM, Kaj Leo Johannesen has today sent to the Faroese Health department the following note, concerning the matter of pilot whales, saying, “..thank you for the letter of the 13th November 2008 from the National Health Office which has informed on the latest news on pilot whales as human food".
The Faroe Islands' Government deserve credit for their initial warnings in 1998 but why did it take so long for them to take action to protect all its population? And why are small dolphins and whales still being killed and eaten in the islands after this warning was issued? Was it because some of the information came from anti-whaling groups originally? Were the political consequences of not taking action deemed to be acceptable? It seems amazing that whilst WDCS and others were raising this issue, Faroese health officials were also concerned enough to raise it back in 1988 and even issue warnings.
‘Something is rotten in the state of Denmark’. I have recently written on the issue of Greenlandic diet and contaminants ....so don’t intend to expand on it here - but it does seem to be a similar story of political foot dragging whilst concern grows.Back in 1999 Frank Cipriano and Steve Palumbi had also been looking at identifying whale products on sale in Japan using new genetic techniques. These pioneering methods opened up the opportunity of seeing what identifiable products also contained contaminants.
In 1999 a group of researchers from Daiichi College of Pharmaceutical Sciences in Fukuoka, Japan, Harvard University in the United States and the University of Greenwich submitted a document to the Japanese Health and Welfare Ministry and the Fisheries Agency to request them to take measures to address the problem. The group feared that consumption of whale meat could result in health problems. Later a series of papers detailing the levels of contaminants found in whale and dolphin meat samples (and which species these came) from were published in the international and national scientific press. These papers – which were available for all to see included one entitled “Human health significance of organochlorine and mercury contaminants in Japanese whale meat” which was published in 2002 in the Journal of Toxicology & Environmental Health (Part A: Current Issues 65 (17): 1211-1235) and published by M. P. Simmonds; K. Haraguchi; T. Endo; F. Cipriano; S. R. Palumbi; G. M. Troisi
At the 51st annual IWC that year WDCS and the Swiss Coalition for the Protection of Whales (SCPW) presented to the IWC evidence that genetic and toxicological studies undertaken in Japan earlier this year by scientists from Harvard University and two Japanese toxicology laboratories provide overwhelming and alarming evidence that Japanese consumers who believe they are buying whale meat, are being tricked into consuming dolphin and porpoise meat so contaminated it that was unfit for human consumption.
WDCS said at the time that ‘the Government of Japan must be aware that around 1,800 tonnes of unacceptably contaminated meat from dolphins and porpoises are entering the human food chain in Japan each year. If the Government ignores our evidence of widespread deception, fails to warn consumers that any cetacean meat, no matter how it is labeled or described, could be highly contaminated, and continues to promote whale meat as a healthy food, it will be complicit in an appalling fraud on the innocent public’.
In 2001 WDCS revealed that Norwegian authorities were expressing concerns over potential contaminant levels.
In 2002, the Asahi Shinbun challenged the Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research (the body that carries out Japan’s so called scientific whaling) of hiding the fact that whale products had to be treated before sales to avoid contaminants.
In May 2003, the news agency, Reuters reported that growing concerns in Norway over pollution levels in whale meat, as well as blubber ,has led to new warnings for certain people not to eat whale meat. This followed on from previous statements on blubber consumption.
"Our advice is that pregnant women and mothers who are breast feeding should not eat whale meat," Janneche Utne Skaare, deputy director of the National Veterinary Institute and a scientist on the panel, told Reuters.
In the years that followed, the numbers of scientific papers on this issue began to grow - and more-and-more people became concerned to the point where even officials in Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan, were willing to speak out.
Now in October 2009 Hiroshi Hasegawa, writing in AERA Magazine (issues dated 26/10/2009 - No.51\380 published by the leading Asahi Shimbun) talks of the failure of Japanese officials to appropriately investigate the threat of Mercury contamination in Taiji.
Hasegawa reports that this summer, ‘the National Institute for Minamata Disease (NIMD) which was established in Minamata city, Kumamoto Prefecture in 1978 [and is now part of the Ministry of Environment] took hair samples from the local residents in Taiji, a small town of 3530 (as of August) in the Higashimuro district of Wakayama Prefecture to determine mercury levels.’ This was the first time that NIMD has targeted a specific area outside of the Minamata region for such a large undertaking.
Whilst Hasegawa reports that MIMD did not diagnose ‘Minimata Disease’, the reporter is critical that ’the examination itself was outside standard neurologically based testing standards that take the brain deteriorating effects of methyl lmercury poisoning into account.’
The actual result were found to be ‘total mercury levels (90% of total mercury is methyl mercury) of the hair samples ranged from 3.60ppm to 86.30ppm, showing that all samples exceed average male and female mercury levels established by the aforementioned nationwide testing, in some cases extremely. Additionally, the total mercury level of toothed whale meat was a staggering 3.08 to 161.50 times the provisional regulation of “0.4ppm” set by the Ministry of Health and Welfare in 1973 regarding total mercury levels in seafood.’
The journalist states that when they questioned the authorities on why appropriate tests were not applied to detect the brain deteriorating effects of methyl mercury, ‘All those seated appeared to become tense’...with ‘no explanation given as to why the tests (e.g. the two point discrimination tests) in question were not carried out.’
The article concludes that ‘The Ministry for the Environment can’t be Trusted’. In a concluding paragraph of this extensive article, Hasegawa states ‘Judging from the unscientific examinations that continue to be carried out, I am inclined to believe that the Ministry for the Environment should not be trusted to handle the mercury problem faced by coastal whaling bases such as Taiji. I don’t believe that anything will be solved until the central government confronts the problem head-on from an independent standpoint.’
Whaling is just not that important that people’s lives should be at risk. When we helped get this ball rolling in 1999 we didn’t realize it would take so long for Governments to get to grips with the issue. We also never contemplated that the health of people would be potentially still be being used as pawns as Governments try to avoid taking action on whaling.
Wake up Japan and the other so-called 'whaling nations', - there is more at stake than your pride now!