Norway and the food retailer Spar are selling whale meat

The Guardian, 15th July 2015, reports: Last year, Norway killed more protected whales than any other country — all for the sake of a marginal and dying industry characterised by cruelty and exploitation of an internationally protected species. Its 2014 catch of 736 minke whales was more than the combined catch of Japan and Iceland — 447 and 261 whales respectively.

Commercial whaling was banned almost 30 years ago. Norway, however, has consistently flouted bans on commercial whaling and international trade in whale products through reservations to the international agreements under the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

Reasons for the Norwegian government’s continued support for whale meat are complex, but include the fact that key stakeholders in the whaling industry have powerful allies in the government. There is also a misguided belief among senior officials and the fishing industry they serve that killing whales will improve commercial fish catches.

A coalition of NGOs including the Environmental Investigation Agency, Animal Welfare Institute and CarbonFix Foundation is launching a campaign calling on Spar Norway, one of the country’s leading food retailers, to stop the distribution and sale of whale meat. The ultimate aim of the campaign is to reduce the market for whale meat and thus the incentive for continued whaling.

Spar is an international, multi-billion euro enterprise with more than 12,000 stores in 40 countries, the majority of which are overwhelmingly against commercial whaling. Opinion polls in the UK and Germany, for example, found more than 80% of people would be unlikely to buy seafood products from companies linked to whaling.

Norway’s whaling and associated trade may be technically legal but it is clearly in defiance of international treaties. And the misappropriated methodology used by the country to set its high catch limits has been rejected by the IWC’s scientific committee as not being in accordance with the agreed scientific basis for ensuring sustainability.

Yet the country manages to mostly avoid international condemnation of its hunts, keeping a low profile at the IWC and allowing Japan and, to some extent, Iceland to take the flak.

Norway has been quietly but steadily increasing its catch in recent years and has its sights set on Japan’s whale meat market. Japan’s catches have been drastically reduced after the International Court of Justice ruled that Japan’s “scientific” whaling was not for the purposes of science, effectively outlawing its Antarctic whale hunt.

A small stumbling block to Norway’s plans is that Japan has rejected Norwegian minke whale products due to high levels of pesticides, so expanding its limited domestic market is all the more important, although most Norwegians are not that interested in whales as food.

The Norwegian government and private entities have created several marketing campaigns in an effort to boost whale meat sales, promoting it to the hotel, restaurant and catering sectors. A marketing association established in 2012 has focused on improving the packaging, advertising and diversity of whale products to tempt consumers.

Yet despite these efforts, and exports of more than 100 tonnes of whale products, Norway’s whaling industry remains a marginal business.

This is why Spar Norway and its parent company, NorgesGruppen ASA, play such an important role. As big name brands with hundreds of stores across the country, they are promoting and facilitating the trade of products that otherwise would not occur. Their involvement doesn’t stop there — NorgesGruppen is working with one whaling company to develop a marketing strategy for whale meat, presumably in the hope of significant future profits in the event that the export market opens up.

Whale species are increasingly recognised as essential components of healthy, productive marine ecosystems that contribute to increasing fish stocks and play an important role in our climate. Given that, plus the threat of consumer boycotts, the Norwegian fishing industry and government would do well to take a closer look at why the country continues whaling.

Despite its poor reputation, globalisation can be a force for good when major brands spanning multiple countries take a firm stand in favour of conservation and environmental protection. Walmart, Amazon, Rakuten and Tesco have ended their association with the sale of whale products in Japan when prompted by our organisations – we trust that Spar will do the same.

Source: The Guardian, 15th July. For the full text, see

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