Musings, politics and environmental issues

Archive for January, 2014

Japanese whale meat now certified as halal

Whale meat from Japan’s main ship used for scientific whaling, the Nisshin Maru, has now been declared halal and suitable for the country’s Muslims to eat. Apparently the company that processes the meat derived from the “scientific whaling” programme wanted to expand the potential diet of Japanese Muslims who make up a whole 0.08% of the Japanese population and, like Muslims worldwide, cannot eat pork. But as Muslims in most parts of the world get along just fine without having whale meat on their menu, I suspect the real reason for halal certification is that whale meat isn’t selling well enough and the company is trying everything possible to increase sales.

For meat to be declared halal, the throat has to be slit and the blood drained away before the animal is killed. This happens anyway with whales, but in this case to be considered halal the disinfectant water used for handwashing had to be changed so that it didn’t contain alcohol.

Will we see other ships follow this trend, for instance the Hvalur boats used for Iceland’s whaling? The whale below was brought back to the mainland on a Hvalur boat.


Should Iceland’s “environment” minister be made redundant?

When Iceland’s current government was being formed and the press were talking about who would take on ministerial positions, I was alarmed because no-one seemed to have the role of environment minister. An environment minister still has not been appointed. Granted, Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson (SIJ) took on the added role of “environment minister” in addition to his role as fisheries and agriculture minister, but Icelanders were told that a new environment minister would be appointed “soon”.

Maybe “soon” has a definition like “immediate“. Not long after becoming a minister, SIJ said in an interview that the environment ministry might become redundant. Well, I don’t know about the environment ministry, but I suspect Iceland’s environment would be much better off if there was no environment minister as SIJ seems to do nothing except attempt to destroy it. I wrote about this a while ago, but now he has stopped funding for Environment Agency staff who were working on preservation orders, for instance for areas that were classified as protected in the Icelandic Master Plan for Hydro and Geothermal Energy Resources and areas suggested by local authorities as in need of protection.

If no more areas are protected officially, it leaves Iceland’s countryside wide open for potential exploitation.

Update: Whale meat and whale beer

Washington DC-based Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) has just sent out a press release saying that Iceland is now sending whale meat and blubber to Japan via Norway.  From there, it is re-exported to Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha Ltd, a company heavily involved in Japan’s highly controversial “scientific whaling” program currently underway in the Antarctic Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

According to the press release, Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha announced last month that that it would begin imports of Norwegian whale meat in 2014, stating that it needed to import and sell whale meat “in order to help subsidize future Japanese scientific whaling efforts.” That same month, Lofothval, a whaling firm based in Reine in Norway’s Lofoten Islands, received two permits from Norway’s Environment Agency to send whale products to Japan. One shipment of 5,000 kg is identified as whale meat only from Lofothval, while a second shipment is identified as a re-export of 5,000 kg of Icelandic minke whale meat and blubber.

A second Norwegian company, Myklebust Trading AS, has sought government permission to ship up to 34,381 kg of minke whale products to the Toshi International company in Japan. This would be the second such shipment from Myklebust to Toshi International in the past year. In addition, Norwegian import statistics show that 14.1 tonnes of whale meat were imported from Iceland into Norway in February 2013.

Meanwhile, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society have also been in the Icelandic media today as they were protesting about the proposed use of whale meal in Icelandic beer. Yes, beer. The whale meal comes from the company Hvalur, who hunt fin whales. The owner of Stedji brewery, Dagbjartur Areliusson, says that it is a healthy option “because whale meal is full of protein and is very low fat, while the drink has no added sugar”. Hmm. I don’t think much of that excuse. The drink will only be sold during the month of Thorri, from January 24 to February 20, when Icelanders traditionally partake in Thorrablot feasts consisting of singed sheep’s heads and other disgusting edibles of a similar ilk. Which can now be washed down with whale beer.

I have already written many articles on the whaling issue for Inter Press Service and have also blogged on the subject quite frequently. Anyone else want an article on the subject?

Note: The West Iceland Health and Safety Authority banned (January 13) the use of  whale meal in the beer as it comes from whale bones and Hvalur doesn’t have a licence to produce whale meal for the food industry.

But today (January 24) Iceland’s “environment minister”, Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson, decided to allow the beer to be sold anyway.


Ecologically valuable area once again under threat

Most people in Iceland thought that the ecologically important Thjorsarver valley would be preserved forever more, as a number of years ago, 2006 to be precise, environmentalists challenged the EIA for the development of the Nordlingaalda Diversion in the area which would have caused untold damage (you can read the article I wrote on this here). Everyone breathed a sigh of relief, as it was 99% certain that the area would be free from development.

But 99% is not 100%.

When the ecological importance of potential hydro and geothermal sites was examined by experts as part of the Icelandic Master Plan for Hydro and Geothermal Energy Resources, Nordlingaalda Diversion was put in the protected category. Later, plans were made to have the whole Thjorsarver area protected, which would have put a complete stop to the Diversion as it would have been completely within the protected area. Unfortunately, this never quite made it to completion during the time of the previous government. Nevertheless, the current “Environment” Minister, Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson, announced that the Thjorsarver area would be protected and invited all and sundry to the signing, out in a community centre in South Iceland. But the night before the signing, he called it off, saying that the boundaries might be altered.

Now, the “new” boundary of the protected area has been declared, which means that a modified form of the Nordlingaalda Diversion can still be developed – and the national energy company Landsvirkjun say they will put new ideas forward for a revised Nordlingaalda Diversion when the Master Plan for Hydro and Geothermal Energy Resources is next revised. They say the the Diversion is very favourable.

Environmentalists are up in arms, however. They say that a number of waterfalls will be destroyed and that the original protected area should be looked on as one entity – the Thjorsarver wetlands and the Thjorsa river are interconnected.

Update: It appears that six other sites that had been placed in the protection category of the Master Plan for Hydro and Geothermal Energy Resources are now under threat as two energy companies, Landsvirkjun and Orkusalan, have just announced that they want to investigate once again whether these sites can be developed for energy production. Not good news.