Norway advises pregnant women against whale meat

NORWAY: May 14, 2003


OSLO - Norwegian scientists dealt a blow to the nation's whalers at
the start of annual hunts by advising pregnant women not to eat
whale meat because of high levels of toxic mercury.



The scientific panel, which recently ruled that blubber from minke
whales contained dangerous levels of industrial chemicals known as PCBs, said
that most people could keep eating the meat despite the traces of the toxic poison.

"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.

She said the advice, following a meeting this week and based on samples
from 125 whales, was in line with recommendations to women to avoid
certain types of fish including swordfish and large trout when pregnant
or nursing.

Norway resumed commercial whaling in 1993, ignoring a world
moratorium. The whaling season formally started this week with 34 boats
entitled to harpoon 711 whales.

Jan Kristiansen, a whalers' leader, told NRK public radio that the
meeting on mercury showed "unfortunate timing" for the whalers. Norwegian health

authorities have to approve the scientists' recommendations.

Norway says minke whales, most often fried as steaks, are relatively
plentiful in the North Atlantic and not threatened with extinction like
other species including the giant blue whale.

Whales, the world's biggest mammals, are susceptible to picking up
toxins like mercury or PCBs because they can live more than 20 years. The
poisons get lodged in meat and fat.

Mercury is a naturally occurring element but can be released into the
atmosphere by industry, especially by coal-fired power plants. Doctors
say that even low concentrations can cause damage to the nervous system.

The tests showed that whale meat contained an average 0.25 microgram
of mercury per kilo (2.2 lbs) and ranged from 0.01 micrograms to 0.80. A

microgram is a millionth of a gram (0.03527 ounce).

Levels were highest in the North Sea and lowest in the Arctic Barents
Sea.
For fish, Norway has considered 0.50 micrograms of mercury as a safe
limit.

Story by Alister Doyle