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Towards a better understanding of the benefits and risks of country food consumption using the case of walruses in Nunavik (Northern Quebec, Canada)

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Martinez-Levasseur, Laura M.
Furgal, C. (Chris)
Burness, Gary P.
Bertrand, Philip
Suppa, Sandy
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Elsevier BV
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Food insecurity affects Inuit communities. One solution is to consume locally harvested foods, named country foods. However, some country foods are not eaten as often as before, and pressures including contaminants and environmental changes threaten the health of Arctic fauna, thus its suitability for local consumption. By combining Inuit Knowledge with laboratory data, our study assessed the benefits and risks of walrus consumption by Inuit in Nunavik, Québec, Canada. It aimed to increase understanding of: 1) the hunt of healthy Atlantic walruses (Odobenus rosmarus rosmarus); 2) the safe preparation of walruses; 3) the nutritional benefits and risks of consuming walruses. To do so, we interviewed 34 hunters and Elders from Nunavik. Levels of mercury, omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and selenium were evaluated from locally harvested walruses. Through the Nunavik Trichinellosis Prevention Program, a total of 755 Atlantic walrus samples, collected between 1994 and 2013, were tested for Trichinella nativa. Information on botulism was reviewed. While interviews informed on how to select healthy walruses and prepare them for consumption, laboratory analyses revealed that walruses had elevated levels of omega-3 fatty acids and selenium but low levels of mercury compared to some other wildlife. Only 3% of the 755 walruses were infected with T. nativa. Most walruses' infections were found within individuals from the South East Hudson Bay stock, where Inuit have thus decided to stop hunting since mid-2000s. Finally, although the number of outbreaks of trichinellosis related to the consumption of walruses has significantly reduced in Nunavik, botulism could continue to be an issue when igunaq (i.e. aged walrus) is not properly prepared. With the support of the Nunavik Trichinellosis Prevention Program and transmission of Inuit knowledge on igunaq preparation, the consumption of Atlantic walruses has the potential to help address issues related to food insecurity in Nunavik in the future.

Science of the total environment, Vol. 719, 137307 (2020)
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Contaminants , Trichinella nativa , Botulism , Inuit knowledge , Atlantic walruses
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article de recherche