IPY Blog 2012: Questioning the safety of traditional foods in the Arctic

Greenland doctor Henning Sloth Pederson at Pleneary Panel: Communities and Health at the 2012 International Polar Year conference on Thursday, April 26th. (Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic)
Greenland doctor Henning Sloth Pederson at Pleneary Panel: Communities and Health at the 2012 International Polar Year conference on Thursday, April 26th. (Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic)
Earlier today I was at the Human and Environmental Well-Being session at the 2012 International Polar Year conference.

Henning Pedersen, chief medical officer at the Queen Ingrid’s Hospital in Greenland’s capital, Nuuk gave a talk on the amount of contaminants found in traditional foods like seal and blubber.

He says levels of certain comtaminants are so high, he’s been recommending that Greenlanders avoid these foods, especially for those in their childbearing years.

His talk sparked an animated question period afterwards.

One woman from North Baffin Island in Canada’s eastern Arctic territory of Nunavut, said it was the first time she had heard of such numbers or dangers from traditional foods. She said woman in pre-natal classes in her community were told they should be eating seal meat for the health of their baby.  Dr Pedersen replied “I think that’s wrong and unethical to say so.”

Many in the audience seemed surpised he hadn’t faced a backlash when making these reccomendations in Greenland. However, Dr. Perdersen said the research was clear. “I understand all the feelings (associated with the importance of traditional foods)… but from a health point of view I have to be honest. Their are too many contaminents in them and we are suprised every year that new ones are turning up.

“We have to face reality.”

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)cbc.ca

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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