Saturday, January 9, 2010

Red, white and blue whales

How Japan's whaling industry looks familiar

The other day I blogged about the Sea Shepherd Society's controversial efforts to stop  Japanese whalers which led to a shocking collision on the high seas.

From a certain perspective, the persistence of Japan's commercial whaling industry appears singularly monstrous.   But there are parallels to this abomination throughout the developed world.  

Food Inc., the 2009 documentary, describes how industry pressure has led the US government to provide taxpayer subsidies that have rendered two crops -- corn and soybeans -- wildly profitable for large-scale growers.  As a result, frequently to the detriment of public health, processed foods sold in the US derive from one or the other of these two staples.  For example, US government subsidies render it economical to use corn derivatives as an "all-purpose" processed food constituent, and as feed for cage-raised poultry and barn-raised cattle. 

Similarly, but on far smaller scale, the Japanese taxpayers subsidize the whaling industry.  This also seems to  occur to the detriment of public health.  Whale meat tends to be chalk full of DDT and other toxins.   Nevertheless, the Japanese government has funded a campaign to create a new market for whale meat.  Their target market is schoolchildren as WaPo reports:
The price for whale meat in Japan has decreased in recent years -- falling to $12 a pound in 2004 compared with $15 a pound in 1999. Demand for whale meat has been anemic. Last year, the industry put 20 percent of its 4,000-ton haul into frozen surplus.

So the government and pro-whaling groups have pumped cash into the promotion of eating whale meat. The government is spending about $5 million a year on such campaigns. . . .

The pro-whalers have taken aim largely at Japan's schools. Schools in western Wakayama Prefecture, which has long been a base of the whaling industry, this year began regularly serving whale meat for lunch. Dozens of schools nationwide will host whale seminars this year like the one at Takadate Elementary School in Natori, a suburb of the city of Sendai, about 280 miles north of Tokyo. At that school, children receive a scientific lecture on whales before enjoying a whale-meat snack. . . .

Similarly, though on a much larger scale, the US government subsidizes agribusiness-friendly school-lunch programs.   Mother Jones reports:
... the National School Lunch Program, which gives schools more than $6 billion each year to offer low-cost meals to students, has conflicting missions. Enacted in 1946, the program is supposed to provide healthy meals to children, regardless of income. At the same time, however, it's designed to subsidize agribusiness, shoring up demand for beef and milk even as the public's taste for these foods declines. 
Recall that at a school in Japan the "children receive a scientific lecture on whales before enjoying a whale-meat snack."   Similarly, American schoolchildren have long been taught the USDA's "food pyramid."   Nutrition researcher Walter Willett, interviewed for Frontline comments:
Then there were lots of economic interests behind the food pyramid. . . . Clearly the dairy industry is extremely well represented in the food pyramid. The beef industry is there . . .  So each one of those industries can say: It's healthy to have three servings a day of our product. …
Many unhealthy foods would not be affordable were it not for the fact that  food industries receive the support of governments in the developed world.  Commercial whaling is but the most spectacularly outrageous manifestation of what happens when governments back ecologically and economically unsustainable industries.  Of course Japan's "scientific" whaling industry is a disgrace. But its persistence in spite of weak market demand ought to be no mystery to Americans.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Because all comments on this blog are moderated, there will be some delay before your comment is approved.