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September 8, 2015

EU Strengthens Trade Ban on Cruel Seal Hunt Products, Sends Strong Moral Message to Canada & Norway

Humane Society International

  • Mark Glover/Humane Society International

The European Parliament has voted to strengthen the EU ban on trade in cruel commercial seal hunt products, finally seeing off years of legal challenges by Canada and Norway. The ban was introduced in 2009 following public outrage at the cruelty involved in seal hunts, including seals as young as three months old drowning with gunshot wounds, and being bludgeoned to death. But seal hunt nations Canada and Norway have attempted to overturn the ban ever since in a series of legal challenges that have been largely rejected by the courts.

MEPs voted today to delete the so-called ‘Marine Resources Management’ exception and to make minor modifications to the Indigenous Communities exception. The changes aim to bring the EU ban into full compliance with the World Trade Organisation which, in response to the latest legal challenge, upheld the EU’s right to ban the trade on public morality grounds, but determined that the exemptions to the ban violated WTO principles. 

Humane Society International is one of the leading animal welfare organisations that campaigned to achieve the historic 2009 EU ban. Joanna Swabe, HSI/Europe’s executive director, said:

“MEPs have done the right thing today by standing up for animal welfare and EU public morality. Europe’s citizens have made it quite clear that we don’t want to buy fur and other products from hideously cruel seal slaughters, and we hope that now Canada and Norway will finally accept the will of consumers, and stop these repeated failed challenges. The EU ban has withstood every single legal test that has been thrown at it; the moral decision to close EU borders to these products of animal suffering has been repeatedly vindicated. Let this be an end to it now.”

Rebecca Aldworth, HSI/Canada director, says:

"In the 17 years I have observed Canada's commercial seal slaughter, I have witnessed extreme suffering that no thinking, compassionate person could ever tolerate. By banning its trade in commercial seal products, the European Union has already helped to save more than two million baby seals from a horrible fate. Today's decision shows the tremendous resolve of the EU to never again provide a financial incentive for the continuation of this atrocity."

Help end Canada's annual seal hunt.

The changes now only require approval by the Council of Ministers, but as the text has already been approved by a qualified majority of Member States, this is merely a ‘rubberstamping’ exercise. 


  • In 2009, the European Union prohibited trade in the products of commercial seal slaughters, a move supported by 86 percent of Canadians (Environics Research, 2008).
  • More than seven in 10 adults (72 percent) across 11 EU Member States support the ban on the sale of seal products in the EU (Ipsos MORI, 2011). More than 6,000 people were surveyed for the poll.
  • In 2010, Canada and Norway challenged the EU ban at the World Trade Organization. HSI played a central role in helping the EU to defend its ban: extensive HSI video evidence of commercial sealing was shown to the WTO Panel, HSI coauthored an amicus brief that was considered in the case and HSI representatives attended the Panel hearings.
  • In 2013, the WTO upheld the right of the EU to ban trade in commercial seal products on the ground of public morality. The WTO Panel noted in the decision that commercial sealing poses inherent risks to animal welfare.
  • In 2014, Canada and Norway appealed the WTO ruling but once again the WTO upheld the EU’s right to ban trade in seal products. However, it found that two exemptions to the ban violated WTO principles. Today’s Parliament vote approves minor amendments to remedy the violations. 
  • In a separate challenge in 2013, sealing industry interests and representatives of the Inuit community sought to annul the ban. However, the European General Court dismissed their challenge, and the European Court of Justice also confirmed the legal validity of the ban.
  • With more than two million seals killed since 2002, Canada's commercial seal slaughter is one of the largest slaughters of marine mammals on earth. The seals are killed primarily for their fur and, because most Canadians oppose commercial sealing, the sealing industry relies almost exclusively on export markets to sell its products.
  • Global markets for seal products are closing fast, with more than 35 countries banning products of commercial seal hunts, including the United States, the 28-nation EU, Russia and Taiwan.

Media Contacts:
Wendy Higgins: whiggins@hsi.org, +44 (0)7989 972 423

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