Michel Vandenbosch: the Belgian behind the EU's first national seal ban
If there is one issue which has united animal protectors in Europe, it has definitely been the campaign against the seal hunt. The concern for seals is all around Europe, and we want to share with you what Europeans think about the seal hunt and about the EU ban.
We give the floor to the Belgian organization, Global Action in the Interest of Animals, GAIA, which has been instrumental in helping seals by working tirelessly for the introduction of a national ban on imports of seal products in 2007 and then by joining the EU campaign.
GAIA was set up in 1992 by Michel Vandenbosch, the post below was written by him, and in a short time this organization has changed the way Belgians think about and treat animals. IFAW considers it a privilege to work with likeminded and enthusiastic partners like GAIA; such a great example of what can be achieved if we all work together. - SVT
In 2004, I was invited by the International Fund for Animal Welfare to go to the Arctic with Magda De Meyer and Jean-Marie Dedecker – two Belgian politicians. The weather, as you would imagine, was terribly cold. Surrounded by blindingly white ice, the images we witnessed that day still resonate in my mind.
I was no stranger to the cruelty of seal killing. But when I saw and heard the hunters beating a family of seals with hakapiks, I was as shocked as my two guests.
A mixture of anger, confusion and sorrow stirred inside me. And at that moment, perhaps it was just one single thought that crossed our minds: how could such barbarity still exist?
When we are in the comfort of our own homes, it seems so easy to be disconnected from what happens thousands of miles away. But when you actually see what goes on, it is impossible to ignore.
Witnessing the killing was a catalyst for me and my two fellow travelers.
And when we returned to Belgium a decision to take action was made.
Our very first step was to create a law at the national level, which we are proud to say we achieved.
Belgium was the first country to set up a trade ban on seal products.
After that, other member states followed Belgium’s example – the Netherlands, Germany and Italy joined the cause – and together we fought to get an European Union-wide seal trade ban in place.
This was achieved through the exemplary collaboration of IFAW, GAIA, HSI, Eurogroup for Animals and animal welfare supporters across the EU.
Strength lies in unity, just as Belgium’s motto states, and by standing together the EU seal trade ban became a reality in 2009.
Now, Canada and Norway are challenging the ban at the WTO.
The first round of hearings took place in Geneva in February. But I am confident about the outcome; I know that the European Commission has a strong record.
In my opinion, the ban is just the starting point and a historic milestone towards ending the cruelty against seals.
And it will just be a matter of time before it completely stops.
For more information about IFAW efforts to protect the EU seal trade ban, watch EU Regional Director Sonja Van Tichelen’s video update here.