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High levels of toxic contaminants in whale meat sold to public

WDC, together with partner organisations is calling on the Norwegian government to expand comprehensive and...
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High levels of toxic contaminants in whale meat sold to public


WDC, together with partner organisations is calling on the Norwegian government to expand comprehensive and thorough monitoring and testing of all whale meat destined for human consumption domestically and for export,  after tests revealed the presence of contaminants that can lead to harmful health effects in humans. 

Tourists visiting Norway are being urged not to eat the meat, which is available in restaurants and as snacks in tourist shops.

The contaminants found can lead to a range of harmful effects and health issues including developmental problems, endocrine dysfunction, cancer, kidney disease and impacts on the liver, heart and immune system.

Together with the Animal Welfare Institute, and Norwegian NGO, NOAH we sent eight raw and frozen samples of minke whale meat purchased online and from grocery stores in Norway in their original packaging to a Tromsø lab for independent, expert analysis.

The most significant finding was that perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) was present in all whale meat samples tested, with levels up to 7.2 µg/kg. PFOS is among a class of chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as ‘forever chemicals’ that are found in many everyday products.

At the average level of PFOS identified in the samples, consumption of just 100 grams of whale meat a week – approximately the size of a deck of playing cards – will cause a human weighing 70 kg (154 lbs) to exceed the tolerable weekly intake (TWI) for PFOS established by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which is applied in Norway. This does not take into account other dietary sources of PFOS that accumulate in the body over time.

The Norwegian Food Safety Authority (NFSA) is already concerned about the impacts of PFAS consumption on the population; it has advised the public against eating fish with similar levels of PFAS to those found in the whale meat samples tested. However, the Norwegian government does not currently provide health advice about contaminants in whale meat. Norwegian whale meat is also exported to Japan, Iceland and the Faroe Islands.

This report comes on the heels of calls from Norwegian doctors and researchers for children to eat less fatty fish due to high levels of PFAS and other contaminants.

The new research raises concerns that people who eat whale meat may be risking their health. With just one small meal, a person may consume levels of PFAS chemicals that exceed safe limits. This is especially concerning for vulnerable populations, including pregnant women, children and adolescents. A recent study by the Norwegian Institute for Public Health (NIPH) found that almost a third (28.6%) of children in Norway have levels of PFAS chemicals in their blood and urine that exceed safe levels.

Unfortunately, it appears that Norwegian government policy is to encourage domestic consumption of minke whale meat, as made clear in statements from high-ranking government officials and various government-supported marketing campaigns asserting that it is healthy.