New Analysis: Troubling Levels of Forever Chemicals Found in Norwegian Whale Meat

Whale meat
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Washington, DC—The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) and other animal protection and conservation organizations are calling on the Norwegian government to expand testing of all whale meat sold for human consumption and update health advisories, after a new analysis revealed the presence of contaminants that can lead to a range of harmful effects and health issues. These include developmental problems, endocrine dysfunction, cancer, and kidney disease.

AWI, Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), and NOAH, a Norway-based animal rights organization, sent eight raw and frozen samples of minke whale meat purchased online and from grocery stores in Norway in their original packaging to a lab in Tromsø for independent, expert analysis. The most significant finding was that perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) was found in all whale meat samples tested, with levels up to 7.2 mcg/kg. Other published studies have found similar levels of PFOS in Norwegian whale meat.

PFOS is among a class of chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that have been linked to serious health effects, including altered immune and thyroid function, cancer, liver disease, kidney disease, lipid and insulin dysregulation, and adverse reproductive and developmental outcomes. They are known as “forever chemicals” due to their persistence and tendency to bioaccumulate in animals, people, and the environment.

The European Safety Authority has established a tolerable weekly intake (TWI) level for PFAS in foods, a standard that is used in Norway. While the United States has no established PFAS standards for food, in April the US Environmental Protection Agency instituted legally enforceable levels, called “Maximum Contaminant Levels,” for six PFAS (including PFOS) in drinking water.

At the average level of PFOS identified in the tested samples, consumption of just 100 grams of whale meat a week — approximately the size of a deck of playing cards — would cause a human weighing 154 pounds to exceed the TWI for PFAS. This does not take into account other dietary sources of PFAS chemicals that accumulate in the body over time. 

Norway is already concerned about the impacts of PFAS consumption on the population. The Norwegian Food Safety Authority has advised the public against eating fish and shellfish with similar levels of PFAS to those found in the whale meat samples tested. However, the Norwegian government does not currently provide health advice about contaminants in whale meat. In fact, Norwegian government policy appears to encourage domestic consumption of minke whale meat, as made clear in statements from high-ranking government officials and various government-supported marketing campaigns asserting that it is healthy. Norwegian whale meat is also exported to Japan, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands.

“Consumers should be able to trust their governments to give accurate health advice about which foods to avoid or limit,” said Sue Fisher, senior policy advisor for AWI’s Marine Wildlife Program. “The Norwegian public — whose government promotes whale meat as a healthy food choice — and consumers in importing countries should be concerned about the consistently high level of forever chemicals in Norwegian whale meat.”

Following calls by Norwegian doctors and researchers for children to eat less fatty fish due to high levels of PFAS and other contaminants, the research raises concerns that people who eat whale meat may be risking their health. This is especially concerning for vulnerable populations, including pregnant women, children and adolescents. A recent study by the Norwegian Institute for Public Health found that over one in four (28.6%) Norwegian children had PFAS chemicals in their system that exceeded safe levels. 

“The Norwegian Food Safety Authority should address this, said Siri Martinsen, veterinarian and head of NOAH. “Although only 2% of Norwegians state that they eat whale meat regularly, it is important that the authorities are honest about the risks. For NOAH, consideration for the animals, nature, and climate are the main reasons for working against whaling. But we chose to take the initiative for this investigation because we see that the authorities refer to the meat as ‘healthy,’ while the facts have not been examined. It shouldn’t be like this.”

The report recommends that the Norwegian government take the following urgent steps to protect the health of consumers of whale meat: 

  • Revising and updating the government’s national database on contaminants, particularly PFAS, in whale meat.
  • Undertaking a thorough program of testing toxic contaminants in whale meat on sale for domestic human consumption, as well as for export.
  • Initiating a regular sampling program to guide and inform public health advice.
  • Reassessing government advice and public information about whale meat consumption.
  • Creating specific dietary recommendations for adults, and special recommendations for children and pregnant women.
  • Sharing data on contaminant levels with countries that import whale meat from Norway.

“More and more research shows that dangerous toxins are ending up in our marine ecosystems, and thus on our plates,” said Lottie Pearson, campaign coordinator at WDC. “The Norwegian public has a right to access accurate information and health advice related to food sold in their supermarkets. The same is concerning for UK tourists traveling to Norway who may see whale snacks in tourist shops. Not only are people neglected by the lack of available information, but it is even more concerning when the Norwegian government encourages people to eat more whale meat when recent research advises against it.”

Media Contact Information

Marjorie Fishman, Animal Welfare Institute
(202) 446-2128, [email protected]

The Animal Welfare Institute is a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 1951 and dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people. AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry, and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywhere: in agriculture, in commerce, in our communities, in research, and in the wild. Follow us on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), and Instagram for updates and other important animal protection news.

NOAH, Norway’s largest animal rights organization, was founded in 1989 and is based on the principle that all animals deserve freedom and respect. NOAH is working against animal exploitation in the farming industry, entertainment industry, in laboratory research, and more by spreading information to the public, arranging protests, lobbying, and campaigning. The organization is also dedicated to protection and conservation of wild animals.

WDC, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, is the leading global charity dedicated to the conservation and protection of whales and dolphins. We defend these remarkable creatures against the many threats they face through campaigns, lobbying, advising governments, conservation projects, field research and rescue.