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May 5, 2009

Victory For Seals! The European Union Bans Trade in Seal Products

Humane Society International/Canada

by Rebecca Aldworth

I have watched history being made today. The European Union has closed its borders to products of cruel commercial seal slaughters, removing a primary market for Canada’s globally-condemned sealing industry. Many believe this ban will deliver a blow from which the Canadian seal slaughter may not recover.
 
The Canadian government tried every trick in the book to try to derail the ban: sending massive delegations to lobby on behalf of the sealing industry, misinforming decision-makers, and even threatening trade reprisals. But the EU acted on behalf of its citizens and, in doing so, has saved millions of defenseless seals from a horrible fate.

We’ve made history

I grew up in sealing country, and I have observed the commercial hunt for 11 years. In that time, I have witnessed cruelty that no thinking, compassionate person could ever accept. It has been difficult, often heartbreaking. But I have always known that in bearing witness to this slaughter, we can stop it.

Every year, the ProtectSeals team has endured hazardous conditions to document the seal hunt. We are committed to showing the world that the Canadian government is lying when it claims that the hunt is humane. 

On our trips to the ice, Humane Society International  and The Humane Society of the United States have brought key opinion shapers such as Paul McCartney and Swedish Member of the European Parliament Carl Schlyter. Neither has wavered in speaking out against the hunt. Shortly after seeing the seal hunt, Schlyter introduced a resolution in the European Parliament, calling on the EU to ban trade in seal products. Our footage of the seal slaughter and our testimony were key in convincing the rest of the EU to agree to the ban. It gives me enormous satisfaction to know that we played a central role in making history for seals.

What does it mean?

This is the beginning of the end for the Canadian seal slaughter. The Canadian government estimates the loss of the EU market will cost Canada’s sealing industry $6.6 million (CAD) annually. Given that the landed value of the Canadian seal hunt last year was less than $7 million, the implications are enormous.
 
With this ban, the EU joins the United States (which outlawed seal products in 1972) and Mexico and Croatia, which ended the trade in 2006. Soon there will be nowhere left to sell the products of cruel commercial seal slaughters, and seals will be worth more alive than dead. 
 
Seals' lives have already been saved. Just the promise of an EU ban was enough to drive this year's price for seal fur down to $15 (CAD) per skin—a decline of 86 percent since 2006.

As a result, many sealers stayed home. Out of Canada’s quota of 338,200 seals, fewer than 60,000 have been killed to date. By the regulated closing date of the seal hunt—May 15—it is likely more than a quarter of a million baby seals will have been spared.
 
Now that the EU has banned its trade in seal products, countless more seals will live out their lives in peace from this year forward.

What’s next?

We must remain vigilant. With generous government subsidies, the Canadian sealing industry may soon develop new markets for seal products. We must make certain that other nations follow the example set by the EU. The ProtectSeals campaign is working in several key countries already to ensure that there is nowhere left for the Canadian sealing industry to market its products.
 
The only way to permanently end Canada’s commercial seal slaughter is for the Canadian government to pass a strong law prohibiting commercial seal hunting. Senator Mac Harb has introduced such a ban, but no other senator has yet been brave enough yet to step forward and support it.

We are working hard in Canada to turn public opposition to the seal hunt into political action. The overwhelming majority of Canadians want the slaughter to stop, and it is time for the government to take action. 

There is still much work to do, but we should all take a moment to celebrate this historic achievement. We have won this victory as a movement, and it is one we will remember for decades to come.

I am grateful to the European Union for rejecting cruelty, and I am grateful for everyone who has worked so very hard to make this day possible. The seals could not ask for stronger allies. 
 

Rebecca Aldworth is director of Humane Society International/Canada (HSI Canada). For the past decade, she has been a firsthand observer of Canada's commercial seal hunt, escorting more than 100 scientists, parliamentarians and journalists to the ice floes to witness the slaughter.

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