WAKAYAMA - Whale meat has been slowly put back on school lunch menus since around 2005, according to a recent survey released Saturday, as the meat is being made available at low prices in a bid to expand consumption.
Of about 29,600 public elementary and junior high schools nationwide offering lunches for students, 5,355 schools, or 18 percent, responded they had served whale meat in their lunches at least once in fiscal 2009 through March 2010, according to the survey conducted from June to August this year.
The Institute of Cetacean Research, which carries out the government’s whaling, provided whale meat to local municipalities for school lunches at one-third of the market price, which was ¥2,060 per kg in 2009.
Japan, which aims to resume commercial whaling, is hoping to increase consumption of whale meat as meat stocks of whales captured by the institute have piled up to around 4,000 tons.
The annual amount of meat supplied domestically peaked at around 220,000 tons in 1962, but plunged sharply to around 1,000 tons in the 1990s after an international moratorium on commercial whaling was introduced in the 1980s.
As a result, whale meat, which often appeared in school lunches in the 1970s, disappeared from menus.
In 2005, Japan increased the whale catch to 1,200 from 750 citing a rise in the populations of the species it hunts, pushing up the supply amount to 5,487 tons in 2006 and driving down the price to half the peak level. However, consumption remained sluggish.
Against this backdrop, the institute and the Fisheries Agency have promoted the sale of whale meat to schools and medical institutions for their lunches at a bargain price.
Japan ceased commercial whaling in 1987, but continues its annual culling of whales under the guise of scientific research. Consequently, the meat is now marketed as a “byproduct” of whaling and the proceeds are used to cover the government’s expenses. Taxpayers’ money is also spent to cover shortfalls.
But antiwhaling countries and organizations have rapped Japan’s hunting of whales for what it claims as research as a disguised form of commercial whaling.
“It is obvious that (Japan) continues whaling despite there being little demand,” said Jun Hoshikawa, executive director of Greenpeace Japan, adding that the government is likely targeting schools because the general public is not buying whale meat.
Wakayama and Nagasaki prefectures, known for their whaling tradition, say they serve whale meat at local schools so their children can learn about the traditional food culture.