Canada to Launch Protest Against Seal Product Ban
An Animal Rights Article from

August 2009

[Ed. Note: See Seal Product Ban Will Withstand WTO Challenge Says the European Union]

Canada will launch a formal protest with the World Trade Organization over a ban on the import of seal products approved by the European Union, International Trade Minister Stockwell Day announced Monday.

The ban, which was approved Monday at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, would be implemented in all 27 EU member countries over the next nine months, in time for Canada's next seal hunt.

The ban applies to products and processed goods that come from seals, including their skins, meat, blubber, organs and oil.

At an Ottawa news conference, Day and Fisheries Minister Gail Shea said they were disappointed with Monday's vote, which they said violates WTO guidelines.

"Associations of veterinarians and others have determined that Canada's hunt is indeed humanitarian, scientific and follows environmental rules of sustainability," Day said.

"And it is our view inappropriate that a trade decision is taken which is not based on the science. And for that reason we are announcing that we'll be pursuing an appeal of this vote today. We want it made very clear that there should be a clause which reflects any country that is following the humanitarian, scientific and environmental guidelines established by the EU themselves, should in fact be exempted from this particular ban."

Denmark and Romania abstained from supporting the ban during the vote, as did Austria, which wants even stronger measures against seal products.

David Barry of the Fur Institute of Canada, said the ban's approval was "not unexpected."

"We feel it's certainly irresponsible, completely counter-productive in terms of looking at seal practice and how to do it well, and it's simply a political move on the part of EU decision-makers," Barry said Monday morning on CTV News Channel.

In a statement, the foreign ministers said the ban was a "response to concerns about the animal welfare aspects of seal hunting practices."

Many of the EU's 27 member countries charge that Canada's seal hunt, the largest in the world, is inhumane. The EU objects to the large number of animals killed during the annual hunt, which can be as high as 300,000, and the methods used, such as clubs and rifles.

Both Day and Shea said experts have deemed Canada's seal hunt to be humane, something that animal rights groups say is not true.

Rebecca Aldworth, director of the Humane Society International Canada, said government reports show that 97 per cent of seals killed during the hunt are less than three months of age.

She also said the conditions in which the seal hunt takes place, including bad weather, prevent sealers from quickly and accurately killing seals, which end up suffering.

"I've observed the seal hunt for 11 years and this is a slaughter of defenseless baby seals and it's beneath every Canadian to allow it to continue," Aldworth told CTV News Channel.

Ban will affect 'many Canadian livelihoods'

The federal government has always said that a ban unfairly targets Canada's Northern communities.

"We are particularly concerned that the views of Canada's Inuit have not been considered by the EU," Shea said during the news conference. "They have made themselves quite clear that an exemption will not help them, yet European officials persist in pretending that it will."

The ban does exempt products that stem from traditional seal hunts carried out by the Inuit, as well as traditional hunts in Greenland, Alaska and Russia.

Products from "hunts conducted for the sole purpose of sustainable management of marine resources may only be marketed on a not-for-profit basis," according to a news release.

Last year, Canada exported about $3.5 million worth of seal products to the EU. The federal government estimates the ban could cost some 6,000 sealers in Canada up to 35 per cent of their earnings.

"The sealing industry is crucial to many small coastal communities and to Northern aboriginal people, where few economic opportunities exist," Shea said. "In caving to pressure from NGOs for a seal product ban, European Union has taken short-sighted and irresponsible actions that will affect many Canadian livelihoods."

The ban will not compromise the main seal product markets, according to Barry. Russia and China are developing markets for seal skin and oil, he said, while markets for meat are found in Northern communities and Newfoundland.

But the ban puts a negative label on the 12,000 Canadians who have commercial sealing licenses, Barry said.

"It more so affects them in a labelling sort of way in the sense that we have 27 Western nations who have now arbitrarily decided that a commercial seal hunt is somehow inherently inhumane," Barry said.

Barry also said the ban will affect other industries that rely on wild resources.

"The groups who have spearheaded this move in the EU are after animal agriculture," he said. "So this sets the trade precedent that can affect Canada widely in all of our primary resource production, especially when it relies on animals."

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