In advance of this year's seal hunting season, Canadian officials are scheduled to appear today at a World Trade Organization hearing in Geneva, appealing the European Union's landmark ruling banning the import of seal products. Leona Aglukkaq, Canada's environment minister, will defend the seal hunt over the next several days as "humane, sustainable and well-regulated," according to the Canadian Press.
"Any views to the contrary are based on myths, misinformation and misguided emotion," Aglukkaq said in an opinion editorial released over the weekend. "Canadian coastal and northern communities continue to depend upon the humane seal harvest as a vital economic activity and they should have every right to do so." In a statement to the WTO's appellate body, Aglukkaq called questions about the morality of seal hunting "very troubling."
In November, the WTO upheld an embargo on seal product imports to the EU, citing "public moral concerns" as justification for the ban. Aglukkaq, however, argued before the WTO that while Canadian seal products are banned, seal products from Greenland can still be marketed in the EU "without any regard for the manner in which they are hunted."
"In other words, the EU Seal Regime does nothing to actually keep seal products out of the EU market or away from the EU public," Aglukkaq said. "It simply replaces seal products that used to come from Canada and Norway with seal products that come from places like Greenland and the European Union."
Still, animal welfare activists have applauded the ban as a major victory for the thousands of seals that are killed each year. "It's a slaughter for a luxury product that people no longer require," said Sheryl Fink, a spokesperson for the International Fund for Animal Welfare. "Two hundred years ago, we had a reason to kill seals. It was for their blubber that was used to light lamps and to heat buildings ... That need no longer exists and we're trying to keep an industry alive that really isn't necessary in the 21st century."
According to the European Commission, approximately 900,000 seals are hunted annually around the world. Canada's commercial seal hunting industry, which conducts most of its hunting during the spring, operates within a federal quota system; sealers are allowed to kill up to 400,000 seals in the country each year.