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December 16, 2010

HSI Campaigns in East Asia: Ending Canada’s Sealing Industry

Humane Society International/Canada

  • The press conference. HSI

  • Rebecca talks to a reporter. HSI

  • Karen Mok at the harp seal nursery. Mark Glover/HSI

by Rebecca Aldworth and Peter Li

In 2009, the European Union banned seal product trade, removing a primary market for Canada’s commercial seal slaughter. Canada’s sealing industry responded by launching an aggressive campaign to tap into East Asian markets to replace those lost in the EU. In January 2010, Canada’s Minister of Fisheries and Oceans led a delegation to Beijing to showcase Canadian seal fur items to Chinese consumers.

The Canadian sealing industry is betting on the Chinese market to breathe life into the moribund sealing industry. They want China to become a dumping ground for products of cruelty the rest of the world has rejected. But HSI is also betting on China—on the compassion of its people. In December 2010, we visited East Asia to spread the word about our campaign.

No dumping ground for cruelty

In Beijing, we held a high-profile press conference to expose the cruelty of Canada’s seal slaughter. The event attracted journalists from 27 of the most important Chinese news agencies, such as Xinhua, People’s Daily, and CCTV. Reports began to flood the media, and numerous calls for a Chinese prohibition on seal product trade appeared in news stories. An audience of millions was horrified at the brutality befalling the “precious angels,” as seal pups are affectionately referred to as in China. On China’s top Internet portal, which published a special report on Canada’s sealing cruelty, more 14,000 comments have been posted to date, expressing shock and outrage. “I had never in the past associated Canada with anything even remotely resembling what I have just seen,” wrote a disheartened reader. “How shocking that Canadians could brutalize those fragile, precious lives,” commented a college student.

In the coming months, HSI will build on this momentum with a campaign to achieve a seal product trade ban in mainland China.

Major progress in Taiwan

Taiwan was the second stop on our trip. With the help of our local partner EAST (Environmental and Animal Society of Taiwan), we were introduced to key members of Taiwan’s foreign trade bureau and forestry administration. EAST launched its campaign with a press conference earlier this year, and it had produced impressive results by the time we arrived in Taipei: More than 160,000 people have signed a petition against seal product trade, and virtually all major Taiwanese retailers have agreed to remove seal oil products from their shelves.

Following our meeting with the Taiwanese government, HSI participated in another media conference organized by EAST, which attracted more than 20 media outlets. We emphasized Taiwan’s important role in ending sealing cruelty and called on consumers, retailers, importers and, above all, the government to stop the trade in seal products. Numerous government officials spoke at the conference, noting their commitment to moving the process forward toward a trade ban.

Next steps in Hong Kong

The Hong Kong SPCA launched its campaign to end seal product trade in 2009, and has achieved tremendous results. At their invitation, celebrity Karen Mok traveled to the harp seal nursery with HSI, afterward holding a press conference in Hong Kong to call for prohibition of seal product trade there. The publicity achieved was tremendous and the Hong Kong SPCA has been able to build on this momentum. Today, many legislators in Hong Kong support prohibition of seal product trade. Given the tremendous efforts and dedication of the Hong Kong SPCA, we believe it will ultimately be possible to achieve a ban on seal product trade in Hong Kong.

Supportive in South Korea

Seoul, South Korea, was the last place we visited. There, HSI participated in a press conference organized by our partner, the Korean Animal Welfare Association (KAWA). Reporters from seven local media outlets and one international news agency (Reuters) attended. Like the audiences in Beijing and Taipei, Korean journalists reacted strongly to our presentation of Canadian sealing cruelty.

Looking forward

For HSI, this trip is a confirmation that compassion is a human condition, not a cultural one. Now we know that there is no market on earth where seal products can be sold when the truth about their gruesome origins is revealed.

HSI is committed to working in East Asia and anywhere else in the world where the sealing industry attempts to market its products of cruelty, until the trade is stopped for good. But ultimately, what is needed now is leadership from the Canadian government. Instead of pouring subsidies into this pointless and brutal industry, money should be invested in a one-time buyout of the commercial sealing industry. Such a plan, which would involve sealers’ being compensated for lost income as the slaughter is ended, and funds invested in economic alternatives in the areas most involved, will put far more money into coastal communities than the seal hunt ever could. With polling showing that half of sealers holding an opinion are already in support of this idea, it is time for Canada to move beyond commercial sealing.

Rebecca Aldworth is executive director of HSI Canada. Dr. Peter Li is HSI's China Policy Specialist.