“Eating shark fin = self-poisoning”

Health Alert Over Shark Fin Consumption
May 9, 2008

Release from: Nickkita Lau
The Standard (Hong Kong)

The use of shark fin as a delicacy was once a hot ecological issue with local environmentalists forcing Disneyland to drop the popular soup from its menus.

Now, shark fin may also present a health hazard, based on a survey that showed eight of 10 samples sold in Hong Kong contain mercury levels above the legal standard.

The highest mercury content was more than four times the permitted limit, according to laboratory tests done by green groups.

Environmentalists said eating shark fin is tantamount to self-poisoning. Babies could be born prematurely, become autistic or have low IQs if women consume the delicacy during pregnancy.

Green groups EarthCare and WildAid also conducted similar tests in the mainland, Taiwan and Singapore.

They found one-third of 92 samples collected, including those from Hong Kong, exceeding the maximum mercury intake suggested by the World Health Organization.

The Hong Kong test, done in February, showed the base of the fins contained more mercury than the middle portion or tip.

The base of one sample contained 2.42 parts per million of mercury – more than four times the 0.5ppm permitted.

WildAid Asia consultant Rebecca Chen Chih-hsiao said shark fin contains 85 percent protein, but once the protein is combined with mercury, the two substances become difficult to separate.

“Sharks are the top predators in the ocean. On average their bodies will contain mercury accumulated over 20 to 30 years,” Chen said.

Last month a woman in Taiwan who ate shark fin at least once a week was diagnosed with mercury poisoning, she said.

“Mercury will not dissolve in cooking,” Chen warned. “It is harmful to the brain and nervous system. Pregnant women should definitely avoid eating shark fin as it can damage the mobility and slow down the development of babies.”

Chen said shark fin has more bad than good nutritional value, yet the demand for it has grown over the past 10 years as the delicacy became a status symbol.

The groups fear more shark types will become extinct if the Chinese market keeps expanding.

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