WTO appeal announced as Canadian seal hunt set to begin

(c) Gareth Lind.It’s official: Canada, and Norway have now all formally appealed the ruling by the World Trade Organization that backs a European Union ban on the import and sale of seal products.

In November, the WTO ruled that EU public moral concerns over the welfare of seals were justified, and that the ban on seal products was a legitimate means of protecting these concerns.

The appeal hearing is expected to occur in mid-March, just as the 2014 seal hunt is about to begin.

WTO appeal rulings are generally issued within three months so the seal hunt — in which some 400,000 seal pups may be killed in only a few short weeks — will likely be concluded before a decision is expected.

Meanwhile in Canada, politicians continue to waste taxpayers’ money in an attempt to save the flagging sealing industry. Following the WTO decision, Canada immediately announced that they would appeal the ruling not because it made economic sense to do so, but as “a matter of principle.”

Canada then announced it would spend another $498,000 towards a project to vacuum-bag frozen seal meat for domestic and Asian markets, touting it as a “new, high-quality product.”

Now, there is nothing “new” about seal meat – Newfoundlanders have been eating it for generations – and successive governments have been trying to market seal meat in China for decades with little success. But while every marketing feasibility study ever done on the Canadian seal hunt would tell you this is an idea destined to fail, the Harper government apparently isn’t about to let sound fiscal responsibility and economic sense get in the way of “principle.”

This is how it seems to work:

  • Lobby groups like the Fur Institute of Canada receive government funding (over a quarter of a million dollars from one department alone last year) to conduct various “feasibility studies” and promote seal products.
  • Foreign seal processors like the Norwegian-owned Carino Ltd get millions of dollars in provincial support to purchase seal skins and develop marketing campaigns.
  • These groups then take it to the top – i.e. Ottawa, where they were reportedly handing out seal-fur credit card holders to federal politicians in an effort to promote “Seal Day on the Hill” - and, undoubtedly, lobby for more government funds. Despite the furry freebies, Seal Day seemed to attract little notice this year, drawing only a handful of MPs wearing their seal fur ribbon.

When the federal government ignores economic reality and responsible spending in favour of “principle”; when millions of dollars are invested in seal meat marketing schemes that have already been tried, and failed; and when a foreign-owned company reaps the benefits of millions of Canadian tax-payer dollars annually to stockpile seal pelts (and make a heck of a lot of those nifty wallets), we have to wonder how long this charade will continue.

The cost of the seal hunt to Canadians is high, the benefits are low — and diminishing with each passing year.

As a recent editorial in Atlantic Fisherman concluded “the seal hunt just may be a luxury most Canadians cannot any longer afford.” 


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Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Rikkert Reijnen, Programme Director Wildlife Crime, IFAW Netherlands
Programme Director Wildlife Crime, IFAW Netherlands
Sheryl Fink, Wildlife Campaigns Director, IFAW Canada
Wildlife Campaigns Director, IFAW Canada
Sonja Van Tichelen, Regional Director, European Union
Regional Director, European Union