Ban proposed on seal products to protest hunt

July 23, 2008 5:29:05 AM PDT
The European Union proposed an import ban Wednesday on products derived from seals that are killed in a cruel way, a move that could hurt the annual seal hunt in Canada - the largest in the world.

Animal rights groups and lawmakers have called for an EU crackdown against seal hunts worldwide, prompting wrangling at EU headquarters over how far the European Commission should go.

The plan announced Wednesday covers hunts worldwide, but especially focuses on Canada because of claims by anti-hunt campaigners that it is the cruelest. Canadian seal hunters use spiked clubs and rifles to kill seals.

"Seal products coming from countries which practice cruel hunting methods must not be allowed to enter the EU," EU environmental commissioner Stavros Dimas told reporters. "The EU is committed to upholding high standards of animal welfare."

Canada has threatened to take trade action against the EU if it imposes a ban, claiming a ban would decimate isolated east coast communities that are heavily dependent on the annual hunt.

The EU proposals says the trade in seal products would be allowed from countries that can offer guarantees their hunting techniques are "consistent with high animal-welfare standards" are used and the animals are killed swiftly without undue suffering.

Special exemptions will also be allowed for Canada's Arctic Inuit community.

The ban recommends a certificate and labels be provided by countries exporting seal products making clear seal products they trade meet strict EU conditions.

A ban would need the backing of the EU's 27 governments and the European Parliament before it could take effect.

Canada's East Coast seal hunt is the largest of its kind in the world, with an average annual kill of about 300,000 harp seals. The Canadian slaughter of some 335,000 seals in 2006 brought in around $25 million.

Several EU nations also conduct seal hunts, including Finland, Sweden and Britain.

The largest markets are in Norway, China and Russia, however one-third of the trade in seal pelts, meat, and oils passes through the EU market, Dimas said.