EU Commission releases amended EU seal products regulations

Friday, 6 February, 2015
Brussels, Belgium

The EU Commission today released an amended version of the EU regulations on seal products. The EU trade regulation on seals had to be revised in response to the findings of a recent World Trade Organization (WTO) appellate body decision. IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) is pleased that the changes maintain the impact of the EU ban on seal products while ensuring that Inuit populations in Canada and Greenland maintain their right to sell seal products from traditional hunts.

“This is a good day for EU politics and a good day for seals,” says Sonja Van Tichelen, IFAW’s EU Regional Director. “The EU Commission has taken a regulation that reflects the concerns of millions of Europeans about animal welfare and cruelty and adjusted it to make sure that it is also fair for indigenous peoples in Europe and elsewhere. We’re very happy with this proposal.”

One other change in the EU Commission proposal was the removal of the Marine Resource Management exemption. This exception allowed fishermen, who culled seals to allegedly protect fish stocks, to sell seal parts in an attempt to recoup costs. Since the exemption was put in place several years ago there have been only a handful of MRM permits issued. The impact of this change is expected to be minimal.

“IFAW expects that this proposal will receive the swift support and approval of both the EU Council and European Parliament. The EU seal trade regulation is an historic achievement that came about through the sustained efforts of millions of outraged citizens. IFAW has been involved in this process from the start and will continue to work with the EU to ensure effective implementation of the regulation. IFAW’s in-depth knowledge of commercial sealing, and first-hand experience with documenting decades of commercial seal hunting, allowed us to contribute two Amicus Briefs for reference during the proceedings.” continued Van Tichelen.

Key Facts:

  • Although the EU itself was a small market for seal products, the EU ban on the trade of products has global influence and it has resulted declines of global demand for seal products.
  • There are 35 countries which now ban the trade in seal products, most recently Armenia and including the 28 countries of the EU, Russia, the US.  IFAW expects that this number will continue to grow, particularly in light of the WTO ruling.
  • Over 98% of seals killed in the commercial hunt are between 2 weeks and 3 months of age.
  • IFAW does not, and has never, campaigned against the Inuit hunt, or the personal hunt of seals for food in Newfoundland.

Timeline of the EU Ban & WTO Challenge

  • 1983 Europe bans importation of whitecoat harp seal and blueback hooded seal products.
  • 2009 EU bans the import and sale of all seal products, with exemptions for personal items, and seal products derived from Inuit and “Marine Resource Management” hunts.
  • November 2, 2009 – Canada launches challenge against EU ban
  • August 20, 2010 EU ban comes into force
  • February 18-20, 2009, Public hearings held, WTO panel hears arguments from Canada, Norway, and EU
  • November 25, 2013 WTO panel releases ruling upholding EU ban as on moral grounds
  • January 25, 2014 Canada and Norway announce that they will appeal the WTO panel decision.
  • March 17-19, 2014 WTO Appellate Body hears appeals from Canada, Norway, and the EU.
  • May 22, 2014 WTO Appellate Body releases final decision.
  • February 6, 2015 EU Commission publishes proposal taking into account WTO ruling
  • The official timeline of the WTO challenge can be found here

About IFAW

Founded in 1969 to end the commercial seal hunt, IFAW now rescues and protects animals around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals, and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
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