Tangent: Japan Times exposes dissent amidst scientist claims that eating dolphin is not dangerous


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Hi Blog. Putting this up because it’s an important story, and where else are you going to find an expose like this of something so politically hot within the domestic press?  Good investigative journalism in the Japan Times regarding the Taiji dolphin culls (the subject of the award-winning movie The Cove), questioning the science behind the public policy of letting people eat unsafe food for political reasons.

It’s not the first time I’ve seen GOJ/public pressure interfere with the scientific community in Japan. Two examples come to mind: 1) Japan‘s Demographic Science making “Immigration” a Taboo Topic, and 2) Apple Imports and the Tanii Suicide Case. Excerpt follows, courtesy of Kevin. Arudou Debito in Sapporo.


The Japan Times Sunday, May 23, 2010
Experts fear Taiji mercury tests are fatally flawed (excerpt)


PHOTO CAPTION: Award-winning U.S. neurologist Dr. David Permutter: “Serving dolphin meat is tantamount to poisoning people; they may as well serve them arsenic …”

PHOTO CAPTION: Dr. Pal Wiehe, Chief Physician, Dept. of Occupational Medicine, Public Health in the Faroe Islands: “Without doubt, (Taiji dolphin meat) is dangerous to consumers …”

On May 10, in a front-page lead story headlined “Taiji locals test high for mercury,” The Japan Times reported the results of tests by the National Institute of Minamata Disease (NIMD) that found “extremely high methyl-mercury (MeHg) concentrations in the hair of some residents of Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, where people have a tradition of eating whale and dolphin.”

Specifically, the tests of 1,137 Taiji residents last year revealed that average MeHg levels were 11.00 parts per million (ppm) for men and 6.63 ppm for women — compared with an average of 2.47 ppm for men and 1,64 ppm for women at 14 other locations in Japan.

However, the May 10 report stated that “experts were at a loss to explain why none of Taiji’s residents have mercury-related health problems” and that the NIMD would “continue to research” why no symptoms were observed, according to NMID Director General Koji Okamoto.

Such continuing research will perhaps intensify in light of further tests by Masaaki Nakamura, chief of the NIMD’s Clinical Medicine Section, on 182 surveyed Taiji residents having the highest mercury levels. Dr. Nakamura’s results found that 43 residents tested above 50 ppm of MeHg, with one showing a level of 139 ppm.

Nonetheless, all those tested were declared healthy at an NIMD-sponsored press conference in Taiji on May 9, at which the institute didn’t give the 43 residents any dietary advice, with Okamoto noting, according to media reports, that, “It’s important that they decide what they should eat.”…

Meanwhile, commenting on Okamoto’s advice for Taiji residents that it is “important that they decide what they should eat,” Dr. Pal Wiehe, chief physician in the Department of Occupational Medicine, Public Health in the Danish-controlled Faroe Islands, said, “This is inappropriate advice . . . We have seen over a period of time that there were negative impacts at all levels in our neurological, physiological and psychological tests that were irreversible.”…

Commenting on the high concentration of mercury in Taiji dolphin meat in 10 certified lab tests conducted on different dolphin species, which found the highest level, at 14.3 ppm, was almost 36 times over Japan’s advisory level of 0.4 ppm, Wiehe said, ” That to me, without any doubt, is dangerous to consumers’ health . . . our average concentration (in pilot whales, which are oceanic dolphins) is 2 ppm.”

He added, “We don’t consider pilot whale meat proper human food.” In fact, despite some harsh local opposition, on Dec. 1, 2008 Wiehe successfully recommended to the government of the Faroe Islands that residents discontinue the consumption of pilot whale meat…

Just as the researcher said that fears of intimidation (and the withdrawal of research funding) prompted him to request his name be withheld, the Taiji dolphin-cull story and the toxic meat it produces is mostly ignored in Japan’s vernacular media. Indeed, this writer has repeatedly been told by editors that the whole subject is “too sensitive” for them to cover.

Whatever the attempts in Japan to ignore questions surrounding the NIMD’s approval for Japanese citizens to continue eating toxic dolphin, however, one of America’s leading neurologists, Florida-based Dr. David Permutter — a recipient of the prestigious Linus Pauling Functional Medicine Award for his research into brain disease — was far less inhibited….

“These levels (of MeHg) are dramatically elevated. This practice of serving dolphin meat is tantamount to poisoning people; they may as well serve them arsenic, it would be no less harmful! What they’re doing is wrong on every count; it’s the wrong thing to do for the people and the wrong thing to do for the dolphins. No matter how you look at this, it’s perverse — it’s a tragedy and it should be condemned. If the role of government is to protect the people, then they’re failing miserably in their role.”

Full article at http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fe20100523a1.html

4 comments on “Tangent: Japan Times exposes dissent amidst scientist claims that eating dolphin is not dangerous

  • Steven Veltema says:

    Last year at a shark cooking event in Oita, one of the guests who runs the local aquarium and works with dolphins talked about the dolphin culling that happens in Taji and had some pictures. Most Japanese were surprised and initially shocked to hear that the dolphins that go to aquariums amount to about 1 out of every 100 or so culled dolphins. Afterward I asked his thoughts on mercury in dolphin meat and he basically said yes it’s pretty bad, but the “average Japanese” person is rarely likely to eat dolphin and only very small amounts at that so it’s not likely to be a problem….

    So much for food safety.

    — Like they said in an episode of “My Name is Earl”:

    Earl: Randy, don’t eat those chocolate chip cookies. They’re poisoned!

    (Randy reaches for one anyway.)

    Earl: Randy, I told you those cookies are poisoned!

    Randy: How poisoned?

  • Speaking of “The Cove”,

    Dolphin hunt film screenings cancelled in Tokyo

    TOKYO (Reuters) – Tokyo screenings of “The Cove,” an Oscar-winning documentary about a grisly annual dolphin hunt have been canceled over planned protests by conservatives who say the film is anti-Japanese, the distributor said on Saturday.

    The film, which picked up an Oscar for best documentary feature this year, follows a group of activists who struggle with Japanese police and fishermen to gain access to a secluded cove in Taiji, southern Japan, where dolphins are hunted.

    Directed by former National Geographic photographer Louie Psihoyos and featuring Ric O’Barry, a former dolphin trainer from the “Flipper” television series, “The Cove” has prompted activists to threaten street demonstrations.

    Planned showings of the film at two cinemas in Tokyo this month have been canceled because of fears the protests might inconvenience movie-goers and others, according to Unplugged, the Japan distributor.

    Screenings at one Osaka theater have also been called off, but Unplugged is still in negotiations to show the movie at 23 venues around the country this summer, said a spokeswoman for the company, who asked not to be named.

    Unplugged has received threatening phone calls and protesters have gathered outside its offices, she said.

    “‘The Cove’ is absolutely not an anti-Japanese film,” Takeshi Kato of Unplugged said in a faxed statement. “I believe a deep and constructive debate is needed about the content of the film.”

    O’Barry, who is set to visit Japan from June 8, said Japanese film-goers should be allowed to see the documentary.

    “It’s not right that a small minority of extremists could take this right away from them,” he said in a statement. “To do so is a clear threat to democracy.”

    The film was shown at the Tokyo International Film Festival last year, but has yet to be made widely available to the public.

    Japan’s government says the hunting of dolphins and whales is an important cultural tradition.

    New Zealander Pete Bethune is currently on trial in Tokyo for boarding a Japanese vessel in an attempt to stop the annual whale hunt in the Antarctic.

    (Writing by Isabel Reynolds; editing by Ron Popeski)

  • Mark Hunter says:

    The thug intimidation is precisely why only this morning I ordered a copy to show my students. Can’t let those fascists win!

  • (株)飛日空 says:

    Like the demonstrations against NJ voting rights that occurred recently in Tokyo, the theaters are probably afraid of something similar happening at their venues. To avoid boycotts, vandalism, bad publicity etc., choosing to show the film may be more trouble that its worth even if the theater owners wanted to show it. Sad, but unfortunate.

    At least the media covering the canceled showings will show to the world what kind of response Japan has towards the film.


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