In a landmark victory for seals, the World Trade Organization ruled on Monday to uphold the European Union’s (EU) ban on imported seal products over ethical concerns.
In 2010, the EU enacted a ban on seal products, with exceptions for Inuit and other indigenous communities and for products that were derived for non-commercial purposes as a result of managing marine resources. The move was challenged by Canada and Norway, which both argued that the embargo violated global trade rules and that the hunts are humane and sustainable, despite evidence to the contrary.
The WTO pointed out inconsistencies and problems with trade agreements, but ruled in the end that the ban was valid because it fills “the objective of addressing EU public moral concerns on seal welfare to a certain extent, and no alternative measure was demonstrated to make an equivalent or greater contribution to the fulfillment of the objective.”
Conservationists and animal advocacy groups are celebrating the victory, not only because it’s a big one for seals, but because it’s a big one for global animal welfare issues in general. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), which has been campaigning against the hunt for decades, noted that the WTO’s recognition of our right to oppose products that we believe are cruel and unsustainable is cause for celebration.
“The report from WTO panel is a victory for seals, animal welfare and Europeans,” said Sonja Van Tichelen, IFAW EU Regional Director. “EU leaders can be proud that they have simultaneously protected seals, represented the needs of their citizens and respected EU obligations under the WTO – that is not a simple task.”
According to the European Commission, an estimated 900,000 seals are slaughtered around the world every year. Canada’s hunt alone is the largest slaughter of marine mammals on earth. It’s been extensively watched by animal advocates, and the cruelty inherent in this bloody business has been well documented.
Despite opposition in Canada, the hunt continues and is largely subsidized by the government, which hands out millions of taxpayer dollars to prop this industry up. Canada relies on exports to keep going, but the global market is disappearing with product bans already in place in the U.S., Mexico, Russia and Taiwan. The search for new markets has also failed, as the value of seal pelts has seen a downward spiral in recent years.
Canada and the EU have 60 days to appeal the ruling. According to Reuters, Canada plans to appeal and believes public opposition to its seal trade is based on “myths and misinformation.” Hopefully Canada will reconsider and stop wasting time and money trying to keep this dying industry going and will instead focus its efforts on ways to help sealers into different jobs.
Photo credit: vastateparksstaff