TOKYO (AFP) - Meat from endangered whales caught by Icelandic hunters is being sold in Japan as luxury dog treats, environmental campaigners said on Tuesday.
Michinoku Farm, a Tokyo-based company, is offering chews made from North Atlantic fin whales on its company website, with the meat described as a "low calorie, low fat, high protein" snack.
Japanese campaign group IKAN said selling products made from endangered species as treats for pampered pooches was the worst kind of conspicuous consumption.
"The most likely reason for shops to sell the whale meat dog treat is to target affluent Japanese who want to show off their wealth with something different," said executive director Nanami Kurasawa of the pressure group.
Michinoku's website, which also sells pet goodies it says are made from Mongolian horses and from kangaroos, has three different sized packets of whale chews, with a 60g bag selling for 609 yen (S$7.60) and a 500g bag for 3,780 yen.
IKAN was one of four campaign groups that issued a joint statement on the treat.
"The product description identifies the meat as being fin whale of Icelandic origin," the statement said, adding: "Its use in pet food suggests that new markets are being explored."
"As Iceland prepares to hunt over 180 fin whales in 2013 for this export market, NGOs question the environmental and economic logic of using meat from an endangered species for the manufacture of dog treats."
The president of Michinoku Farm, Mr Takuma Konno, told AFP that the company was selling produce that was legal in Japan.
"Dogs are like family members for many people in Japan. We just wanted to sell a wide variety of food for dogs," he said.
"(Campaigners) look at whales as important animals, but we consider dogs to be just as important," he said.
But he said the company will be withdrawing the jerky from sale.
"Maybe I was ignorant of the debate (about whaling), but it's not worth selling the product if it risks disturbing some people," he said.
Japan hunts whales under a loophole in an international moratorium, insisting it is carrying out research. Iceland openly defies the ban.
While whale meat is declining in popularity in Japan, many Japanese see the campaign against whaling as a symbol of cultural imperialism from the West and argue that it is a long-standing tradition.
Australia and New Zealand in particular have voiced outrage over Japan's whale hunting, and Canberra has taken Tokyo to court to challenge the legal basis of the "research".
A ruling by the International Court of Justice is expected by the end of the year.
Australia's representative to the International Whaling Commission Donna Petrochenko said she was aware of the allegations and Canberra was in "very active" talks with global partners on an appropriate response.
"We're in discussions with other like-minded countries about the best approach to take," Ms Petrochenko told Australia's parliament on Tuesday.