Japan's ruthless push for the return of commercial whaling received a significant setback yesterday when pressure from green campaigners forced five big food companies to pull out of supporting the Japanese whaling industry.
The five firms, led by Japanese seafood giant Nissui and its wholly-owned US frozen foods subsidiary Gortons, said they will divest their one-third share in Japan's largest operator of whaling ships, Kyodo Senpaku. The firm runs seven out of a total of eight whaling ships in Japan.
The move follows months of campaigning by environmental cyber- activists, who sent thousands of e-mails to the firms demanding they end their support for the industry.
It could not come at a more vital moment, as 2006 is shaping up to be the most critical year for the whale since the international whaling moratorium was brought in 20 years ago. More than 2,000 whales, the highest number for a generation, are being slaughtered annually by the three countries continuing whaling in defiance of world opinion - Japan, Norway and Iceland.
Crucially, this year the pro-whaling nations look likely to achieve their first majority in whaling's regulatory body, the International Whalingsion (IWC), following a diplomatic campaign Japan to get small developing countries t join the IWC and vote in its favour by offering them substantial aid. Over the past six year s, at least 14 nations have been recruited to the IWC as Japan's supporters. Most of them have no whaling tradition. Some of the newcomers, such as Mongolia and Mali, do not even have a coastline.
A majority was expected at last year's meeting in Korea but one of the new member countries Gambia, inexplicable failed to turn up At this year's meeting in St Kitts and Nevis in the West Indies in June, a pro-whaling majority is more likely to be secured.
A 51 per cent will not secure t scrapping of the 198 6 um - that needs a majority of 75 per cent - but it will be a huge propaganda coup for the whaling nations, and will enable them to bring in other measures, such as secret voting, which may well bring the crucial majority nearer.
In these circumstances, yesterday's decision by the five firms to withdraw support for Japan's whaling activities takes on even more significance. The intensity of the campaign against the five companies drove their whaling connections near the top of some search engines when consumers went looking for information about their products. As well as Nissui and Gortons, which is one of America's largest frozen seafood companies, the companies include the New Zealand food processing firm Sealord and Canada's Bluewater Sea …