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February 6, 2015

Animal Welfare Triumphs as European Commission Proposes Strengthening the EU Ban on Cruel Seal Product Trade

Humane Society International/Canada

  • HSI

The European Commission has today proposed strengthening the European Union ban on seal product trade, closing previous loopholes and appearing to bring it into compliance with recommendations from the World Trade Organization. Humane Society International praised the Commission for defending animal welfare in the face of constant legal challenges from Canada and Norway. In 2014, following the latest such challenge by Canada and Norway, the WTO upheld the right of the EU to ban trade in seal products, but noted some inconsistencies in the exemptions in the ban. In response the EU Commission has proposed making the EU ban even stronger than it was before.

Dr. Joanna Swabe, EU executive director for Humane Society International/Europe, stated:

"We are delighted that the European Commission has so robustly defended animal welfare and public morality. This proposal not only improves the European Union ban on commercial seal products, but sends a strong message to Canada and Norway that the EU will not accept products that result from cruelty to animals. The proposed amendments also clarify an exemption regarding traditional Inuit hunts, and remove a pointless exemption for products of marine mammal management hunts. It appears that the WTO challenge of the EU ban by Canada and Norway may have backfired; the proposed amendments tighten loopholes to make it impossible for products of commercial seal hunts to reach the EU market. We strongly urge Members of the European Parliament and Member States to respect the will of EU citizens and ensure that the Commission’s proposal is not watered down or weakened in any way."

Call for a federal buyout of Canada’s commercial sealing industry.


  • 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).
  • The EU ban contains a clear exemption for products of traditional Inuit seal hunts. HSI does not oppose Inuit subsistence sealing.
  • 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 ruled that the EU ban on trade in commercial seal products is justifiable on public morality grounds. The WTO Panel noted in the decision that commercial sealing poses inherent risks to animal welfare.
  • In January 2014, Canada and Norway appealed the WTO Panel report. The EU subsequently also appealed. HSI coauthored another amicus brief that was submitted to the WTO Appellate Body, and HSI representatives again attended the Appellate Body hearing.
  • The WTO Appellate Body ruled on May 22, 2014 and upheld the EU’s right to ban trade in products of commercial seal hunts for public moral reasons based on animal welfare. However, the WTO Appellate Body determined that two exemptions contained within the EU ban violated WTO principles. As a result, the EU is amending its ban to bring it into compliance.
  • 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 Contact: Christopher Pare 514 395-2914, cpare@hsi.org

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