• Kyodo

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A tenant in a Tokyo department store sold mercury-tainted dolphin meat in February after falsely claiming it was whale meat, investigations by a citizens’ group showed Monday.

The meat, from striped dolphins caught off Wakayama Prefecture, was found to contain mercury at levels roughly 170 times provisional limits set by the government, according to the group Safety First.

Nanami Kurasawa of the Dolphin and Whale Action Network said she first discovered the meat on the store shelf and thought it strange that the product was labeled “minke whale from Wakayama,” when Japan’s annual research whaling quota for waters near the archipelago is limited to around 100 minke whales to be caught off Hokkaido and the Pacific Ocean off the Tohoku region coast. At about 350 yen per 100 grams, it also seemed cheap for whale meat, she added.

Activists then had the Institute of Cetacean Research conduct DNA analysis of the meat they purchased from the shop in February, and found it was the meat of a striped dolphin. Further analysis by Daiichi College of Pharmaceutical Sciences in Fukuoka revealed that the meat was contaminated by 67 parts per million of mercury.

After the ban on commercial whaling in 1987 and the subsequent decrease in supply of whale meat, critics have been pointing out that meat from dolphins caught along the coast of Japan has been sold as whale meat at high prices.

Research revealed that the tenant, who was not identified, has been selling at department stores what has been touted as minke whale meat from Wakayama since around last July.

According to the marine produce company that operates the tenant shop, the meat it purchased from a market in Chiba Prefecture was initially labeled “blackfish,” which is also a type of whale. The firm admitted it mistakenly labeled it minke whale upon selling it.

Kurasawa said, “If meat is labeled ‘whale meat at a discount price,’ consumers will buy it even if it is dolphin meat. Shops must label products correctly.”

Critics say that, given the false label discovery in addition to the mercury contamination, the relevant authorities should implement measures to better ensure that product labeling does not mislead consumers.

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