Safe to eat meat of tranquillized polar bears after 45 days: Health Canada

Health Canada has significantly reduced the number of days northerners should wait before eating the meat of polar bears that were tranquilized.

Health Canada has significantly reduced the number of days northerners should wait before eating the meat of polar bears that were recently tranquillized by researchers.

Previously, Inuit and others who consume polar bear meat were advised to wait one year before eating meat from a bear that had been hit by a tranquillizer dart, a practice commonly used by polar bear researchers.

The federal department has now slashed that wait to 45 days for bears that were subdued by Telazol and Zoletil, two of the most common bear tranquillizers being used.

The department made the decision after looking at research on the drugs.

"We've felt quite comfortable with that data in hand, and understanding the extent to which polar bear meat is being consumed by people in northern communities, that this withdrawal time would be sufficiently safe," Dr. Ian Alexander, director general of Health Canada's veterinary drug directorate, told CBC News on Thursday.

The new wait time affects Inuit who hunt polar bears under a regulated system. Researchers usually tag or mark bears that had been tranquillized.

Hunters need information

Joshua Kango, chairman of the Amarok Hunters and Trappers Association in Iqaluit, told CBC News he is concerned that hunters may not have all the information they need about eating the meat of tranquillized polar bears.

Speaking in Inuktitut, Kango said darting bears is generally OK because it helps researchers study polar bears.

Alexander said Health Canada initially recommended a year-long wait when the tranquillizers were first used on polar bears because it didn't have data on the drugs' residual effects.

The tranquillizers being used on polar bears are not studied in the same way retail drugs are, because they are not available to the public, he added.

But after people complained about having to wait a whole year before eating polar bear meat, the department decided to take a second look.

Alexander said Health Canada looked at existing research, published in 2000, that analyzed muscle, liver and fat from tranquillized bears.

"The study does show that after 24 hours, there will not be much risk associated with consumption of the polar bear meat," he said.

Health Canada decided on a 45-day wait because the research is very preliminary, he said. The wait time is consistent with U.S. government guidelines, he added.