EU parliament votes to ban seal products

Christian Spillmann Yahoo News 5 May 09;

STRASBOURG (AFP) – The European Parliament voted Tuesday to endorse an EU-wide ban on seal products in protest at commercial hunting methods, sparking a threat from Canada to take action at the World Trade Organisation.

The move, backed by much of the European public and animal rights groups, was approved by 550 votes to 49 at the parliament in Strasbourg. The ban will enter force for the next commercial seal hunt season in 2010.

The decision to reject seal products came on the eve of a visit to Prague by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to launch free trade talks with the European Union.

The Canadian government maintains that the 350-year-old hunt is crucial for some 6,000 North Atlantic fishermen who rely on it for up to 35 percent of their annual income.

Ottawa authorized the slaughter of 338,000 seals this year, insisting the hunt does not threaten the species. But a slump in pelt prices has meant fewer hunters on ice floes off Canada's Atlantic coast.

"If the EU imposes a trade ban on seal products it must contain an exemption for any country, like Canada, that has strict guidelines in place for humane and sustainable sealing practices," Trade Minister Stockwell Day said.

"If there is no such acceptable exemption, Canada will challenge the ban at the World Trade Organisation," he said in a statement.

Canada hopes that requiring training on how to humanely slaughter seals, legislating standards for seal products and taking measures to safeguard the species will silence hunt critics.

The EU is Canada's second-largest trading partner. Their trade is worth about 25 billion euros (33 billion dollars) annually, with the seal trade accounting for around 4.2 million euros.

"After many years of campaigning by European citizens I welcome the regulation which bans seal products from entering or being traded in the European Union," EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said in a statement.

"By upholding the highest standards the new legislation addresses EU citizens' concerns with regard to the cruel hunting methods of seals," he said.

The commission said the ban, already endorsed by the bloc's executive body, would eliminate disparate national rules. But it underlined it would allow trade in seal products derived from hunts traditionally conducted by Inuit and other indigenous communities and which contribute to their subsistence.

EU members Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Slovenia have already banned or announced their intention to ban products from the commercial hunt.

The EU ban -- on pelts, used for making bags, hats and gloves, and meat, oil, organs and fat -- adds to those announced by the United States and Mexico, two of Canada's main trading partners.

It does not hit traditional hunters or hunting conducted on a small scale and controlled under national legislation -- notably in Britain, Finland and Sweden -- in an effort to protect fish stocks hit by seals.

Animal rights groups hailed the vote as a "historic victory".

"The European Union has acted on behalf of its citizens, and its decision will save millions of seals from a horrible fate," said Mark Glover, director of Humane Society International.

"The parliament has hammered the final nail in the coffin of the sealing industry's market in the EU," said Lesley O'Donnell, from the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Europe votes to ban seal product trade
Canada threatens to appeal to WTO after move aimed at drastic reduction in annual seal cull
Ian Traynor, 5 May 09;

Europe moved today to halt the clubbing to death of hundreds of thousands of seals every year, when MEPs voted overwhelmingly to ban trading in seal products, hoping that the collapse of the market will drastically reduce the massacre.

The decision to outlaw virtually all trade in seal products was directed mainly at Canada, where the yearly cull kills around 300,000 seals, a practice condemned by many as barbaric.

Canada, which exports several million dollars worth of seal products to the EU, is threatening to take Brussels to the World Trade Organisation because of the ban, which still needs to be endorsed by the EU's 27 national governments. But that support is guaranteed as EU governments agreed the text with the European parliament.

While 90 MEPs voted against the ban or abstained, 550 voted in favour. The trade will be stopped next year.

"This is a political issue that now has its time," said Arlene McCarthy, the Labour MEP. "After a 40-year campaign, Europe has a chance to introduce a ban in all 27 states."

National bans on commercial trading in seal products are already in place in 30 countries including the US, the Netherlands and Italy. Italy is still said to be one of the biggest European importers of seal pelts.

Seal products are also found in Omega 3 'fish oil' pills, leather goods and meat from the Arctic.

The vote came as an EU-Canada summit convened in Praguewhere the Ottawa government was expected to complain about the ban. Norway has also threatened to take the EU to the WTO.

"The ban does nothing to improve the welfare of hunted seals but sets a dangerous precedent by ignoring WTO rules," said the International Fur Trade Federation.

Its chairman, Andreas Lenhart, said: "MEPs have rushed through bad legislation to garner what they think will be public appeal just before they are up for re-election [next month]."

But opponents of the ban are relatively rare in Europe.

"Cruel and inhumane seal hunting is unacceptable and an EU measure is the best way we can help to end it around the world," said Caroline Flint, the minister for Europe. "It also shows how we can achieve more acting together than alone."

Almost one million seals are culled every year worldwide. McCarthy said the Canadians had slaughtered less than a quarter of the number of seals this year compared to last because trading bans were destroying the market for seal products.

Inuit communities in the Arctic were exempted from the new rules. The marketing of seal products would still be allowed from "hunts traditionally conducted by Inuit and other indigenous communities and which contribute to their subsistence".

Lesley O'Donnell, the EU director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said today's vote "hammered the final nail in the coffin of the sealing industry's market in the EU. The world is uniting in opposition to commercial sea hunts. A complete collapse of Canada's commercial seal hunt may now be inevitable."