Saturday, September 6, 2008

Canada reacts as EU moves to ban seal products

Brussels, July 28 - The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union last week floated proposals for EU wide ban on seal products from countries that fail to meet high animal welfare standards. Calling for a ban on all seal products obtained through “cruel hunting methods,” European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas labelled them as “repugnant.”

In the EU, sealhunting is practised in Sweden, Finland, the Danish territory of Greenland and in the UK while in Canada it is the biggest hunt in the world with thousands killed annually off its east coast. Commenting on the EU proposed regulations to ban seal products, Loyola Hearn, Canadian Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, reiterated in a statement, “Once again, we would like to caution European decision-makers: adopting broad regulations to ban products from a responsible, sustainable and well-regulated hunt is a slippery slope. To bow to misinformation and emotional rhetoric in restricting the trade of humanely harvested animals would set a dangerous precedent for all wild hunts.”

While announcing the total allowable catch (TAC) and other management measure for the 2008 Atlantic seal hunt, Hearn said in early March, “The seal hunt is an economic mainstay for numerous rural communities in Atlantic Canada, Quebec and the North.” The minister had stressed, “The government has taken further steps to ensure the hunt continues to be conducted in a humane manner, adopting recommendations of the Independent Veterinarians Working Group.”

The European Commission explained that it is just addressing concerns expressed by the European Parliament and the general public, “that seals are being killed and skinned using practices that unnecessarily inflict pain and suffering.” Neil Parish, Conservative MEP and President of the European Parliament’s Animal Welfare intergroup had earlier this year urged the Commission to take action: “As the culling season gets underway, the time has come for the Commission to take action. The slaughter of seals in Canada, including seals that are just a few weeks old, is barbaric and the EU should not condone it.”

The Commission also cited the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) scientific opinion as saying, “that seals can be killed rapidly and effectively by a number of methods without causing avoidable pain, distress and suffering, but evidence shows that effective killing does not always happen in practice.”

Clarifying this EFSA point, one reliable Canadian government source familiar with the hunt told New Europe, “Canada’s seal hunt is humane, sustainable and responsible. The recommendations made in the recent report by the European Food Safety Authority (published in December 2007) uphold the legitimacy and humaneness of the hunting practices and techniques that are used, regulated and enforced in Canada’s annual commercial seal hunt. Canada has also supplied information to the authors of a study commissioned by the European Commission on the socio-economic and animal welfare aspects of seal hunting.”

Warning that the Canadian government will “continue to stand up for sealers to protect the Canadian sealing industry and our markets,” the Canadian minister said, “While we are encouraged that the hard work of the Prime Minister, Fisheries Conservation Ambassador Sullivan, and the international team from the provinces and territories has led us to successfully secure exemptions from the proposed ban, our position remains that any ban on a humanely conducted hunt, such as Canada’s, is without cause.” “In the weeks and months ahead, the federal government - along with our provincial and territorial governments and sealing industry leaders - will be reviewing how the proposed regulations and any exemptions would apply to Canada. Canada expects the EU to quickly begin discussions on the conditions for exemption from the draft regulations so that any trade restriction would have no impact on market access for products from Canada’s humane, regulated and responsible hunt,” Hearn added.

Canada’s annual culling of seals attracts the ire of international environmental campaigners and animal protection groups. With Belgium and the Netherlands already banning the import of seal-derived products while Germany and Austria are considering closing their markets too, the industry pundits predict that proposed EU wide ban will devastate the seal product industry as one-third of the products head for the EU. The EU proposals still need to be debated and cleared by the European parliament and then Council of Ministers made of 27 Member States.

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