European Commission proposes a seal product import ban–maybe

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2008:
BRUSSELS–The European Commission on July
23, 2008 adopted a proposal “for a regulation
banning the trading of seal products within,
into, and from the European Union,” said the EC
press agency, “to ensure that products derived
from seals killed and skinned in ways that cause
pain, distress and suffering are not found on
the European market. Trade in seal products
would only be allowed,” the EC announcement
continued, “where guarantees can be provided
that hunting techniques consistent with high
animal welfare standards were used and that the
animals did not suffer unnecessarily.”
The caveats may set animal advocates up
for another disappointment like the one that
followed a 1991 proposed European ban on imports
of leghold-trapped furs. Enforcement,
originally to start in 1995, was repeatedly
delayed by U.S., Canadian, and Russian
diplomatic pressure. In July 1997 the ban was
amended by the European Union General Affairs
Council into a mere agreement to establish
“humane” trapping standards.
“After certain leghold traps and even
drowning sets, illegal in many countries, were
included in the standard” that was eventually
adopted by the International Standards
Organization, “the whole exercise lost impetus
and credibility,” summarized World Animal Net
founder Wim de Kok.

Insisted European Union environment
commissioner Stavros Dimas, “Seal products
coming from countries which practice cruel
hunting methods must not be allowed to enterŠThe
EU is committed to upholding high standards of
animal welfare.”
Acknowledged the EC press statement,
“Seals are sentient mammals who can experience
But the statement added, “European Food
Safety Authority scientific opinion indicates
that seals can be killed rapidly and effectively
by a number of methods without causing avoidable
pain, distress and sufferingŠIn countries where
seal hunting continues, a certification scheme
would be established, coupled if necessary with
a distinctive label or marking, which will
ensure that seal products traded are clearly
certified as coming from a country meeting strict
“The proposal will now be submitted to
the European Parliament and to Council for their
approval,” the announcement concluded.
Added Dimas at a news conference, “The
images of seal hunting that circulate around the
globe every year are a reminder of the oftentimes
gruesome practices used to kill seals. European
citizens find this repugnant and in contradiction
of our standards of animal welfare.” But “It is
very difficult to define what is humane,” Dimas
Canadian Fur Institute executive director
Rob Cahill pointed out the ambiguous European
Commission wording to Tara Brautigam of Canadian
Noted Brautigam, “Dorian Prince, the
European Commission’s ambassador to Canada, said
he was fairly confident that products derived
from the East Coast seal hunt would be deemed
humane and permitted entry into the EU.”
“I would expect that Canada would be
well-placed to provide the assurances which are
necessary,” Prince told Brautigam.
Magdalen Islands sealing association
representative Denis Longuépée told the CBC that
he wasn’t worried about the proposed EU seal
product import ban because “Independent
veterinary associations, the government and some
[other] people say that the way we kill the seal
at this moment is very humane.”
Constant Brand of Associated Press
interpreted “High animal welfare standards” to
mean that “the animals are killed swiftly without
undue suffering.”
“Having first called for this ban over 23
years ago, when I visited the ice floes in
Canada and witnessed the inhumane carnage which
takes place during the annual cull,” Member of
the European Parliament David Martin told The
Scotsman environment correspondent Jenny Haworth,
“I am pleased the commission has at long last
come forward with proposals for a ban of the
trade in seal products. However, the proposals
are open to abuse,” Martin said. “Much of the
killing takes place in remote areas where
effective monitoring of humane killing would be
Brigitte Bardot, who first spoke out
against sealing long before she retired from
acting in 1973 to work fulltime for animals,
told Associated Press that French president
Nicolas Sarkozy had assured her that “everything
would be done” during the current French
presidency of the European Union, which began on
July 1, 2008, to move the proposed seal product
import ban forward. The EU presidency rotates
among the member states every six months.
But Canadian fisheries ambassador Loyola
Sullivan predicted that a ban could not be
ratified and put into effect in less than 18
months to two years. Sullivan pledged to the CBC
that the Canadian government will continue to
lobby the 785 members of the European Parliament
and the governments of the 27 member nations in
opposition to the proposed ban.
Two weeks before the wording of the
proposed ban was announced, Canadian prime
minister Stephen Harper told European Commission
president Jose Manuel Barroso that the Atlantic
Canadian seal hunt is “humane, sustainable and
regulated,” and added that “Public pressure
within the European Union to curb the sale of
seal products is based on misinformation from
anti-sealing organizations and extremist groups.”
Among the most prominent organizations
lobbying the European Commission in opposition to
the Atlantic Canadian seal hunt since 1981 has
been the World Society for the Protection of
Animals. The WSPA board president since June 5,
2008 has been Dominique Bellemare, now running
for Parliament as a member of Harper’s party,
the Conservative Party of Canada.
Bellemare, who has endorsed Harper on
his web site, has not rebutted Harper, and so
far as ANIMAL PEOPLE can determine, has never
made any public statement against either sealing
or any other aspect of the fur trade. [See page
18.] WSPA bills itself at its web site as as
“the only animal welfare organization to be a
member of the International Council of Voluntary
Organiz-ations, a body linked directly to the
United Nations Office for the Coordination of
Hum-anitarian Affairs,” with observer status at
the Council of Europe and official recognition
by U.N. treaty management agencies including the
Convention on International Trade in Endangered
Species, the International Standards
Organization, and the World Trade Organization.
WSPA would thus be influentially
positioned to accept or reject any effort to
define “humane” sealing. If WSPA could be
induced to accept a definition of any form of
sealing as “humane,” further progress toward
banning seal product imports into Europe might be
forestalled for decades.
“How profoundly disappointing and
regressive,” said Friends of Animals president
Priscilla Feral, noting the potential for the
ambiguous European Commission language to negate
the surface intent of the proposed resolution.
“The seals have been subjected to the same
tiresome game for four decades,” Feral fumed,
remembering past Canadian government pressure on
the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies and
World Wildlife Fund Canada to define
seal-clubbing as “humane.”
Predicted Feral, “It will be four more
decades of debates about the most acceptable way
to steal the seals’ fur.”
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society founder
Paul Watson, however, was exultant. “After
more than four decades of fighting,” Watson
e-mailed, “an incredible victory has been
achieved. This means,” Watson asserted, “that
seal products cannot be transshipped to Asia
through European ports, and since Europeans
define global fashions, what is not in fashion
in Paris and Rome will no longer be in fashion in
China or Japan.
“Canada may insist that the Canadian
slaughter of seals is ‘humane,'” Watson
acknowledged, but “If Canadian sealers are
forced to actually attempt to humanely kill
seals,” Watson predicted, “they will have a
very slow time of it, because it takes time and
perfect conditions to slaughter an animal in
hostile weather conditions on moving ice.
“The European Union was forced to word
the ban the way they did,” said Watson, “to
avoid trade retaliation from Canada. Canada could
have imposed trade restrictions [in response to] an outright ban,” Watson hypothesized, “but it
will be difficult to contradict the wording of
the proposal that specifically prohibits products
obtained inhumanely. Fisheries Minister Loyola
Hearn can’t very well say we oppose banning seal
products derived from cruelty. Nor can he say we
have the right to put inhumane products on the
world market. He can continue to insist that the
seal slaughter is well-regulated and humane, but
now he has to prove it.”
Seal Alert/Scuth Africa founder Francois
Hugo proclaimed himself, “deeply thankful to the
European Commission for announcing that this
trade ban will now include 17 species of seals,
found in the oceans of the globe. Seal hunting
occurs year round,” Hugo explained, “but the
hunting season varies on the region and the
species targeted. Canada, Greenland, and
Namibia account for about 60% of the 900,000
seals hunted each year,” Hugo summarized.
“Other countries which hunt seals include
Iceland, Norway, Russia, and the United
States, and within the European Union, Sweden,
Finland, and the United Kingdom.”
The United Kingdom does not permit
commercial sealing, but since 1998 has allowed
fishers in the Shetland Islands to shoot seals
who interfere with their catches. Since then,
the seal population in the Shetlands and Orkney
Islands has fallen by 45%, University of St.
Andrews researchers estimated in August 2007.
“What makes this monumental for Seal
Alert,” said Hugo, “is that the original
Written Declaration adopted by 473 members of the
European Parliament in September 2006,” as
prelude to the proposed trade ban, “only banned
imports of harp and hooded seal products. Seal
Alert fought hard to include all species of seal
around the world.”
European Parliament member Caroline
Lucas, who introduced the 2006 Written
Declaration, was at that time unaware of the
Namibian seal hunt, which kills about 85,000
seal pups per year. When informed, Lucas
quickly agreed with Hugo that “Any European ban
must include all seal products.”
The Canadian government, however,
seemed to take the European Commission proposal
so lightly that within a week Canadian fisheries
minister Loyola Hearn’s office told Keith
Doucette of Canadian Press that Hearn may grant a
request from Nova Scotia fisheries minister Rob
Chisholm to increase the 2009 grey seal quota.
Explained Doucette, “The quota for Nova
Scotia’s grey seal hunt now stands at 12,000,
which is small when compared with the harvest off
Newfoundland’s north coast, where about 200,000
harp seals were taken last year. Hunters in Nova
Scotia rarely take more than a few hundred
annually. But Chisholm maintains an expanded
hunt is necessary to help fishers who are
convinced that the 300,000-strong grey seal herd
is affecting the recovery of groundfish stocks.
He said fishers want the quota increased to
between 20,000 and 25,000 per year.”
Bedford Institute of Oceanography
researcher Don Bowen told Doucette that the grey
seal population rapidly increased from the 1960s
into the 1990s, coinciding with a collapse of
the cod stock to about 10% of what it was. This
confirmed that cod are “not an important item in
the diet of grey seals,” Bowen said. During the
past 10 years, Bowen added, the rate of grey
seal population growth has leveled off from about
12% per year in previous decades to about half
that, indicating that the carrying capacity of
the habitat may have almost been reached.
“Although there is no word on when Ottawa
will make a decision on whether to expand the
hunt,” Doucette wrote, “Bowen said scientists
will present new estimates for sustainable
harvest levels for grey seals later this year.”

Print Friendly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.