European Union bans seal products

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2009:
RAMKIN INLET, Nunavut; BRUSSELS–The European Union on May
5, 2009 banned the import of seal pelts and other sealing
byproducts. Canadian governor general Michaelle Jean on May 27,
2009 responded by taking a bite from the heart of a freshly killed
“Hundreds of Inuit had gathered for a community feast in
Rankin Inlet in Nunavut, the first stop on Jean’s trip to nine
remote northern communities as Canada’s head of state and
representative of Queen Elizabeth II,” recounted Agence
France-Presse. “Jean reportedly knelt above the carcass of a freshly
slaughtered seal and used a traditional ulu blade to slice meat off
the skin. She then asked one of her hosts: ‘Could I try the
heart?”’ Jean swallowed one piece, according to Canadian Press,
pleasing her Inuit audience, the Atlantic Canadian sealing industry,
and the Canadian fur trade.

But her gesture was unlikely to improve the image of sealing
and sealers, resoundingly expressed by the European Union vote: 550
in favor of the seal product import ban, with just 49 opposed, and
41 abstentions. The language of the ban deems sealing “inherently
Nine of the 27 European Union member nations had already
either enacted similar bans or had announced plans to do so,
including Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany,
Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Slovenia.
The European Union vote came even as Canadian prime minister
Stephen Harper flew to Prague to try to negotiate a free trade
agreement with the EU. Only the U.S. does more business with
Canada than the EU–but seal products in 2008 accounted for just 3.5
million euros worth of the 25 billion euros exchanged.
Small though the sealing trade with the EU is, a third of
all global trade in seal products moves through EU nations, often en
route to purchasers in Russia and China.
The language of the EU ban allows for the continued
transshipment of seal products through Europe, to reduce the chance
that the ban might be overturned by a Canadian protest to the World
Trade Organization, promised by Canadian federal trade minister
Stockwell Day. However, transhippers may not sell or promote the
sale of seal products that are en route through the EU.
The ban covers all seal derivatives, including fur, meat,
oil, blubber, and vitamin tablets made from seal oil.
The ban has yet to be ratified by the Council of Ministers,
but this is considered a formality, since the national delegations
have already approved it. The ban is expected to take force in
“After many years of campaigning by European citizens I
welcome the regulation,” said European Union environment
commissioner Stavros Dimas, who made passing it a priority.
“The Canadian government used every trick in the book:
massive lobbying, misinformation, even threats of trade reprisals.
But the EU stood its ground,” exulted Rebecca Aldworth, who has
coordinated anti-sealing campaigns each spring for more than a
decade, at first for the International Fund for Animal Welfare,
most recently with the Humane Society of the U.S.
“This is the beginning of the end for the Canadian seal
hunt,” Aldworth predicted. “The Canadian government estimates that
losing this market will cost Canada’s sealing industry $6.6 million
each year. The hunt brought in less than $7 million last year. Just
the promise of an EU ban was enough to drive the prices for seal fur
down 86% since 2006. As a result, many sealers stayed home. Out
of this year’s quota of 280,000 harp seals, fewer than 60,000 have
been killed so far.”
Sealing participation from Newfoundland & Labrador fell by
more than two-thirds, said Department of Fisheries & Oceans resource
management officer Larry Yetman. Newfoundland & Labrador prime
minister Danny Williams warned that his government might authorize
seal culls.
“The seal herd has to be kept under control, and if that has
to be through a cull, that’s just another method,” Williams said.
The European Union ban exempts seal products hunted by Inuit,
but North Bay Fur Harvesters Auction fur technician Ed Ferguson told
Chris Windeyer of The Nunatsiaq News in Iqaluit that Fur Harvesters
would probably buy only about 3,000 pelts from Inuit in 2009, down
from 10,000 in 2008, and had sold no Nunavut seal skins at one
recent auction.
“The government of Nunavut is trying to sell those 10,000
pelts, currently sitting in a warehouse, by stepping up sales of
pelts to Nunavut artisans at cut-rate prices,” wrote Windeyer. “The
government spent about $400,000 buying up pelts from Nunavut hunters
last year and thanks to the European ban, is left holding the bag.”
A coalition of sealers and other representatives of wildlife
use industries sought to build an appearance of public support with a
web petition promoted as being about protecting seals. It actually
sought signatures toward establishing a “right” for sealers to
continue sealing. Links led viewers to the wise-use International
Wildlife Management Consortium World Conservation Trust and the
government of Newfoundland & Labrador.

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