Chinese market for seal products: IFAW uncovers 18-year history of empty promises

Monday, January 17, 2011
TORONTO, CA
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW - www.ifaw.org) has uncovered an 18-year history of Canadian government officials making empty promises about a market for seal products in China.  Despite nearly two decades of marketing attempts, seal products are still not popular in China. IFAW is questioning how long the Canadian government intends to waste taxpayer dollars pursuing markets that never materialize, and if last week’s announcement is political rhetoric designed to win votes in Atlantic Canada in the runup to a possible federal election.

”The sealing industry last week admitted there is still a long way to go to promote seal meat in China,” said Sheryl Fink, Director of IFAW’s Seal Program, ”but Canadian politicians have been promising that China will save the dying sealing industry since at least 1993, so this seems like a bit of a pipe dream. The Chinese -- and the majority of Canadians – haven’t ever consumed seal products, it’s not part of their diet.”

”One has to wonder if  the Canadian government makes these empty promises simply to try and win votes in Atlantic Canada,” Fink added.

IFAW also questions why Canadian taxpayers’ dollars continue to be wasted on failed marketing attempts. The sealing industry is already heavily subsidized by Canadian taxpayers, with levels of government support regularly exceeding the landed value of the hunt. In addition to the millions of dollars spent annually on government support for the sealing industry, IFAW has learned that in 2010 the Canadian Seal Marketing Group received a $325,000 grant specifically to attend trade shows in China and Russia.

”The money wasted over the last 18 years should instead have been spent on compensation and working to transition people out of this dead-end industry. The Canadian government should stop wasting our money and not spend another cent on creating false hopes that the sealing industry will survive,” said Fink.

”All of America, the EU and the vast majority of Canadians don’t eat seal products and don’t want them.  The Canadian government is insulting the Chinese people by trying to dump products that Canadians don’t even want,” said Fink.

”The Chinese are increasingly aware of animal welfare issues,” added Fink, ”IFAW is confident that the Chinese people will continue to reject cruelty-tainted seal products.”

Canada’s 18-year history of attempts to sell seals to China:

1993: Media reports that representatives of a Chinese syndicate are in Labrador looking to buy up to 60,000 seals for their penis and gall bladder. Article states that Inuit opposed the deal, saying it was wasteful and would not feel right killing a seal solely for its penis.1

1993: Pilot scheme established between Terra Nova Fisheries, Newfoundland, and Shanghai Fisheries, China, to explore trade in seal products in Asia. Involved seal oil and pelts.

1994:  Newfoundland Premier Clyde Wells, following a visit to China, claims that Terra Nova Fishery Company of St John’s, Newfoundland, is poised to sign a deal to export 50,000 seals to Shanghai Fisheries General Corporation. 2 3

1995: Media reports that North American Enviromental Technologies Inc. (NAET), an Ontario company,  will be given the go-ahead to build a factory to process up to 250,000 seals for the Asian market. 4

1996: In April, Terra Nova Fisheries and Seafreeze announced a new joint venture and began to ship 30,000 lbs of meat a month to China. Newspaper transcripts described how one million pounds of seal meat were left rotting on the dock in China due to lack of meat certification. Chinese authorities express concern over the absence of pre mortem inspections for diseases as required for other livestock. (IFAW internal memo)

1996: Newfoundland Fisheries Minister, John Efford, says  Newfoundland must start focusing on the growing demand for seal meat, particularly in China, and claims that the demand for seal products in China was “skyrocketing”. Provincial staff reportedly met with Chinese officials, who reportedly placed an order for 900-thousand kilograms of seal meat.5

1996: Newfoundland Fisheries Minister John Efford claims to have an order for 2 million pounds of seal meat to be shipped to China in January 1997, from a Mr Lee of the Charleston fish plant. (IFAW internal memo, available on request)

1998: A tentative deal is made to export 24,000 seals per year to China.  6 In 1999, the Chinese withdraw for unknown reasons and the deal falls apart.7

1999: Minister John Efford continues to discuss the prospect of a Chinese market, :``The purpose of the subsidies on seal meat was only to develop markets and five years was sufficient for that. The industry is strong enough now to support itself without them...Naturally, it's going to take a longer period of time and more public relations to develop it...I'm excited about markets opening in China…''8

2000. John Efford claims to have orders for 150,000 flippers and 300 tons of dried seal meat from China.9

2001: Trade mission to China conducted to explore Chinese demand for seal oil and other seal products.10 

2002: Tina Fagan, Director of the Canadian Sealers Association: ”We have now tested seal-meat products across Canada and will be working on markets for these products.”11

2003: Media reports that Iceland receives a licence to export seal meat to China, contradicting claims in 2011 that Canada is the ”first country in the world to export seal meat to China”.

2003: Canadian harp seal meat and deli products make their debut at the Canadian Gourmet Festival, held in Guangzhou, China.12

2010: Federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Gail Shea, visits China to promote seal products.13

2011: Federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Gail Shea, announces deal with China to allow the import of edible seal products. Shea also says ”the [sealing] industry will now have to do their work to find those markets within China so we expect [markets] will grow slowly." 14 

Notes to Editors:

  1. CBC Radio News. 15 July 1993. Inuit of Northern Labrador are considering a commercial seal hunt with a bit of a difference. Transcript available on request.
  2. Want a Good Time China? BBC Wildlife. April 1994.
  3. CBC Radio Noon. 16 November 1995. A company that wants to get involved with seal processing to hold information sessions. Transcript available on request.
  4. The sudden ecologists.  BBC Wildlife. January 1996.
  5. Nfld-Seal-Orders. Broadcast News. November 8, 1996.
  6. Nunavut to export seals to China. National Post. October 31, 1998.
  7. http://www.nunatsiaqonline.ca/stories/article/qc_pursues_new_seal_deal_w...
  8. Hunt will survive: Efford: Fisheries Minister John Efford says the sealing industry will thrive, even after federal subsidies run out. The Telegram. January 10, 1999.
  9. CPAC TV. 21 January 2000. Transcript available on request.
  10. http://www.nunatsiaqonline.ca/archives/nunavut010228/nvt10209_16.html
  11. Don’t club the sealing industry. Globe and Mail. May 10, 2002.
  12. http://www.lacbac.gc.ca/webarchives/20060118052514/http://w01.internatio...
  13. Statement by Gail Shea, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans: The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Supports Sealers and Their Communities. MARKETWIRE. March 10, 2010.
  14. Bartlett, D. 2011. Canada to sign seal deal with China. The Telegram (St. John’s). 13 January 2011.

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