Ever heard of shark fin soup? It's an expensive Chinese delicacy that may soon be taken off restaurant menus in Vancouver, Richmond and Burnaby, as the three cities contemplate a bylaw that would see the sale of shark fins banned, reports CBC.
Similar bans are already in place in Toronto, as well as a number of other Canadian communities, including tiny Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, where only a single restaurant was serving the soup. The sale of shark fins is also prohibited in five U.S. states.
The potential tri-city ban comes on the heels of a rapid drop in the global shark population that is blamed on the commercial shark fishing trade, which critics argue is poorly regulated. Another method of collecting fins called finning is also controversial: fishermen cut off the sharks' fins and then throw them back in the ocean to slowly die.
While the move to ban the fins appears to have widespread public support — an informal online poll at the CBC finds that 92% of respondents supported the ban — local councillor Kerry Jang says the Chinese community is divided on the issue.
"Some believe it's a tradition and should be allowed no matter what," Jang tells CBC. "As I say to them, foot-binding was a tradition in Chinese culture for a long time and my grandmother is sure glad that one ended."
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Ernie Cooper is the director of TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring program at the World Wildlife Federation in Canada. Cooper says he's pleased that the plight of sharks is finally getting some public attention, but cautions that a municipal ban will not spell the end of shark overfishing.
"The problem with prohibition is that it doesn't provide feedback to the industry. If they can't sell it here, they'll sell it somewhere else," says Cooper. "From a conservation standpoint, I prefer a more regulatory stance, one that encourages fisheries to harvest fins in a more sustainable way."
This isn't the first delicacy that a government has attempted to regulate or ban. Here in Canada and around the world, various foods and beverages have been outlawed because they're cruel, endangered or just plain dangerous to eat. Here are five consumables that at some point have been prohibited, and the varied reasons they were pulled from the menu.
Raw or unpasteurized milk
Banned: In Canada since 1991, and in 23 U.S. states.
Why: Raw milk, or unpasteurized milk, is considered unsafe by some government bodies, as the they believe the process of pasteurization makes milk safer to drink by killing bacteria and other pathogens. Critics argue that raw milk is more nutritious and flavourful, with an unlikely chance of carrying harmful bacteria.
Japanese puffer fish
Banned: Completely in the European Union, and in the U.S. without a license. Importation is prohibited in Canada.
Why: Though "fugu" as it is known in Japanese, is considered a delicacy in Japan, the fish's skin and certain organs contain a poisonous toxin that can kill you. If it is prepared correctly, yum. If not, eaters can end up paralyzed or asphyxiated.
Why: Though the Canadian Federal Government maintains that we have strict guidelines in place for sustainable and humane sealing practices, the E.U. went ahead and banned the importation of seal products anyway, many of them Canadian products. The E.U. legislation passed in 2009 found seal hunting "inherently inhumane." In 2011, the Canadian government requested that the World Trade Organization step in and help settle what has become an ongoing legal battle.
Banned: In the U.S. since 1989.
Why: U.K. Haggis is prohibited in the U.S. because the Scottish national dish contains 10 to 15 per cent lamb or sheep's lung, an illegal substance in the U.S. The lungs were considered a health risk in 1971 when the ruling was made, because they were believed to be a potentially carrier of a variant of mad cow disease called scrapie. The U.S Department of Agriculture is currently conducting research to see if this health risk still exists. In the meantime, Scottish expats in America have got their fingers crossed.
Banned: In Chicago from 2006 to 2008 and in California since July 2012.
Why: Part of the process of making foie gras — literally "fatty liver" — requires that geese be force-fed grain, which ensures that their liver is sufficiently fatty, but also means they endure the pain of livers up to ten times their normal size. In 2006, Chicago City Council banned the delicacy on the grounds that force-feeding was inhumane, but then repealed the ruling in 2008. On the opposite coast, a law banning force-feeding came into effect in California just last month.