Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Why are we blaming Japan for whaling and not Iceland?

Post World War II Japan was starving. The country had lost two cities – Hiroshima and Nagasaki – to atomic bombs and over 1.74 million Japanese servicemen and one million citizens. The Japanese people had lost everything and their hunger was compounded by a disastrous harvest and the fragile chaotic economy. The devastating effects led the Japanese to commercially pursue a tradition dating back to 10,000 BC – whaling.

In 1947, whale meat made up almost half of all animal protein consumed by the country. Nearly 20 years later, whales continued to make up nearly one-quarter of the Japanese diet. Today Poll and Poll has found that 95 per cent of Japanese people very rarely or never eat whale meat. So much so that the amount of uneaten frozen whale meat stockpiled in Japan has doubled to 4,600 tons between 2002 and 2012.

So why is it that the Japanese continue to defy international calls to stop the cruel practice of whaling when there is no demand in their country anymore?

Whaling is as cruel as battery farming. The animal is killed in a painful and inhumane way after letting it suffer, though in the case of whaling it’s done using a harpoon which is imbedded in its back. The reason why the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Japan’s whaling practice should stop is because whales are endangered species. Fin and Sei whales are two types of the worlds most endangered and hunted whales. Though Japan does not hunt these whales, instead it hunts Minke whales which as of yet are not classified as endangered.

The country that hunts these endangered species is Iceland.

Ninety per cent of whale meat in Iceland is exported to Japan and the export market is the main reason behind why Iceland has the world’s largest commercial whaling programme. Similar to Japan, there have been numerous moratoriums against Iceland to stop them whaling which the country has continuously defied. Though it seems that because Iceland is a western country with close ties to the European Union, the world has largely turned a blind eye to its inaction. This is in part due to the fact that the Icelandic people themselves support whaling whereas the opposite is true for the Japanese people. Several nations have attempted to boycott Iceland but as this would lead to losing an ally, this could not be done long term.

The Japanese attitude to whaling as a political issue is ambivalent and whale meat as food is indifferent. Previously Japan had a quota of 1000 whales a year which is now down to 333. Whale meat sellers complain of the price constantly decreasing as demand has fallen year after year, causing them to scale back their operations. What used to be a thriving industry with several meat processing plants is now being propped up by government subsidies of up to $50 million a year with only two active meat processing factories remaining.

Wholesalers and retailers feel the fall in demand too, as their margins on whale meat have been squeezed in recent years. There have been reports of unsold meat and retailers cutting prices just to “get it off their shelves” as the taste of Japanese consumers has changed and they have switched to other types of meat. While wholesalers and retailers may be willing to support losses in the short run, they are in the business to make a profit so they will not support this indefinitely as it’s not sustainable.

So it seems this cruel practice is driven by the government’s desire to not give in to other countries opinions and also to serve as a memory of their survival post World War II. This is evident in the classification of their whale hunting as “scientific research” to allow them to exploit a loophole in the founding treaty of the International Whaling Commission. Hundreds of jobs in Japan are dependent on this industry.

While whaling is seen as inhumane, it should ultimately come down to environmental protection. For this reason Iceland should be criticised in the same light as Japan, as Iceland hunts and kills an endangered species of whales, largely for a Japanese market. Though it seems easier to target the most vocal and defiant country in this situation, which happens to be Japan.

Demand for whale meat is falling and it is only a matter of time before the industry stops all together in Japan. Even importing meat from Iceland will no longer be sustainable. At this point, we might finally see an end to whaling, not just in Japan and Iceland but globally as it becomes a cruel practice of the past.

from The Express Tribune Blog

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