A conversation with Céline Sissler-Bienvenu on the European Union's seal trade ban
Having been a long time advocate for animal welfare, Celine and I talked about the EU Seal Trade Ban and how the case at the WTO could affect other things.
Sonja: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and how you started working with IFAW?
Céline: I started as a campaigner with IFAW in France back in 2006. But even before I started working with IFAW, I was always passionate about animals. I studied African elephants and gorillas, and I worked with the Brigitte Bardot Foundation for the Welfare and Protection of Animals.
Sonja: Working as the Director for France and Francophone Africa, how involved are/were you with work for the protection of seals?
Céline: When I first started as a campaigner with IFAW, we were working to put the seal ban in place. Back then, it was very important to have a national ban first before we could push for the EU ban. So I was working in France and approached the Minister of Ecology. After a few discussions with him, he was very supportive. He understood the need for the ban and he was going to bring the issue to the national level.
We were very close to getting the national ban approved. But then someone got word that I was working at the government level and then the media found out about it and put the issue out there. After the media buzz, the Canadian government met with Sarkozy and he decided not to support the seal ban in the national level.
Sonja: That must have been disappointing.
Céline: Yes, it was very disappointing! I felt that after all that work, we couldn’t move forward. But then the EU Seal Ban was put in place and France would have to follow the rules. I was very happy for the seals and for IFAW.
Sonja: How do you feel now that Canada and Norway are challenging the EU Seal Ban at the WTO?
Céline: It is not a surprise to me that they decided to challenge it. I knew that it wouldn’t be as simple as it appeared. The ban is based on ethical reasons and it is the first time that such a reason was used. I knew that Canada and Norway would fight it. It is normal; they don’t want to give up. But I hope that the EU will be firm and strongly defend their own ban, that they won’t weaken the ban.
Sonja: Do you think that Europeans know about the ban and care about keeping it in place?
Céline: Europeans do care. They supported the ban and they will continue to support it. There is no need to kill the seals in such a cruel manner for a market that is almost nonexistent. And with climate change having an impact on the seal population, it is imperative that we keep the ban in place.
Sonja: What are your thoughts on lifting the ban?
Céline: Lifting the ban would be a big step backwards. It would simply send the wrong signals. How can the EU put a ban and then just remove it? I see this as a real weakness.