A New Threat to Whales: Snake-Oil Salesmen
John R. Platt - TakePart
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July 3, 2015

In a bid to boost sales, a Japanese company is claiming that whale meat can fight dementia and other health problems. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)

A Japanese company wants to turn whale meat into the next rhino horn.

Just as unscrupulous dealers in China and Vietnam started making unsubstantiated claims a decade ago that rhino horn could cure cancer and hangovers, Japan's Kyodo Senpaku is now marketing Icelandic whale meat as a way to treat dementia and fatigue.

The move comes in response to plummeting demand for whale meat in Japan. Consumers there now eat 4,000 to 5,000 tons of whale meat a year, down from 200,000 tons in the 1960s. About half of this year’s imports by Kyodo Senpaku will come from Iceland, one of the few countries killing whales under the guise of “scientific research.”

A spokesperson for Kyodo Senpaku told The Japan Times that the attempt to market whale meat as a curative “may help not only to maintain demand for whale meat but also to lower health care costs.”

So what’s the deal with the anti-dementia claim? Kyodo Senpaku’s assertions hinge on an amino acid found in whale meat called balenine. Balenine and other flesh-based compounds (collectively known as carnosines) have indeed been linked in early research to fighting depressive orders. A paper published this year in the journal Aging and Disease concluded that the “therapeutic potential of carnosine dietary supplementation towards stress-related and depressive disorders should be examined” but did not say it was ready for marketing as a health aid for humans.

The move to sell whale meat as a curative did not surprise conservationists.

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