7 min read

WTO affirms EU ban on seal products

The finding of the WTO Appellate Body is another damaging blow to the sealing industry: The EU ban on seal products can remain.

The desperate, last-ditch effort by Canada and Norway to appeal last year's WTO ruling upholding the 2009 EU ban on seal products came up short today.

The ruling confirms yet again that animal welfare concerns are a legitimate reason for WTO members to regulate trade, and that the EU is justified in banning the importation and sale of products from cruel commercial hunting of seals.

What's more, this positive ruling provides the WTO with new relevancy by showing it is capable of fairly addressing matters of public moral concern in the future.

The impact of the EU ban on seal products is largely symbolic: Less than 5 percent of Canada's exports went to the EU in the years leading up to the ban. But the value of seal skins -- and the numbers killed in the Canadian commercial hunt -- have declined dramatically in its wake.

For more than 40 years, IFAW has fought against the seal hunt and driven down demand in Europe through our intense lobbying efforts there.

The EU ban made a significant impact nonetheless. Once it was in place, other countries took note and closed their markets: In 2011, the Russian Federation banned the import of harp seal skins -- cutting off 90 percent of Canada's export market -- and in 2013 Taiwan also banned the import of seal products. A failed agreement to market seal meat to China has recently been blamed on "animal rights activists" by Fisheries Minister Gail Shea.

As the WTO decision is announced, Canada's commercial seal hunt sputters along, with a reported kill of just more than 50,000 animals. The last remaining seal processor, Carino Ltd., acknowledged that it required a loan for the third year in a row in order to proceed with operations this year.

The remaining markets for the slaughtered seals are unknown. Last reported, skins were being sold out of the back of a van as pricey $120 "furniture throws" (cash only) at a Bryan Adams concert in St. John's, Newfoundland, to protest the musician's opposition to the commercial seal hunt.

A roar of protest over the WTO decision from the Canadian public is unlikely, as a majority of Canadians are against the commercial seal hunting and would prefer to see their taxes used to support a transition away from this dying industry. The media outcry in Canada will be driven primarily by the industry in collusion with government.

Hunt supporters will say the ban is unfair, the EU has been misinformed, and even brainwashed by animal rights protesters and their multi-million dollar campaigns. They will say the ban is a slippery slope -- that soon all animal use will be prohibited -- and lobsters may be next. These same complaints were heard after the Panel's initial ruling last year, and the same dire warnings -- intended to cause fear amongst the public -- were voiced way back when the first EU ban on whitecoats and bluebacks came into place in 1984.

Obviously these fears did not come to pass.

The truth is hard to accept. NGO campaign budgets are minuscule in comparison to those of governments like Canada and Norway. Most consumers in a variety of markets now know the inherent cruelty associated with commercial seal products and neither want -- nor need -- the trinkets, trims and other products manufactured from Canada's dead seals. Three decades of efforts to keep commercial sealing alive in Canada have failed, wasting millions of Canadians' tax dollars.

It's time to come to terms with reality: Support for the seal hunt is not the answer to building employment in rural Atlantic Canada. It's time to buy back the licenses of the few remaining sealers and invest in other opportunities to support economic development in Atlantic Canada that provide a more promising future.

--Sheryl Fink, Wildlife Campaigns Director, IFAW Canada Take a moment to share this post with your friends, as your support has helped make this victory possible. www.ifaw.org Thank you!