Japanese public schools are reintroducing whale meat in their lunch menus at low prices to expand consumption, according to a survey released today.
Of about 29,600 public elementary and junior high schools nationwide offering lunches for students, 5,355 schools, or 18 per cent, responded they had served whale meat in their lunches at least once in fiscal 2009 through March 2010, according to the survey conducted by Kyodo News.
The Institute of Cetacean Research, which undertakes the government’s research whaling, provided whale meat to local municipalities for school lunch use at one-third of the market price, which was 2,060 yen per kilogram in 2009.
Whale meat is made available as some whaling towns are trying to pass on traditional food culture to children, the survey said.
Japan, which aims to resume commercial whaling, is hoping to increase consumption of whale meat as meat stocks of whales captured by the institute in its research mission have piled up to around 4,000 tons.
When whaling was at its peak, the annual amount of meat supplied in Japan totaled around 220,000 tons in 1962, but plunged sharply to around 1,000 tons in the 1990s after an international ban on commercial whaling was introduced in the 1980s.
As a result, whale meat menus, which often appeared in school lunches in the 1970s, went away.
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. Yet, consumption remained sluggish.
Against the 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 and switched to whaling for research purposes in 1987. The meat of whales caught in research whaling has been on the market as “byproducts” of the research and the proceeds are used to cover research expenses.
Taxpayers’ money is also spent to cover shortfalls.