IFAW cautiously welcomes EU ban on seal products but warns that exemptions could allow cruelty to continue

Wednesday, 27 August, 2008
(Brussels - 23 July 2008) Today’s announcement of a proposed ban on the trade in seal products in the European Union has been cautiously welcomed by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) as a potential milestone in its founding campaign to end the cruel Canadian commercial seal hunt - but IFAW is concerned that loopholes in the legislation could still allow seal products from this cruel hunt to enter European markets.
The proposal, announced today (Wed) by EU Environment Commissioner Mr. Stavros Dimas, comes after growing political opposition and a huge public outcry in the European Union about the ongoing commercial hunts for young seals. Opinion polls in EU Member States show that millions of citizens want the trade to stop. Earlier this month more than 1,000 animal welfare supporters from across Europe joined IFAW and other groups at a demonstration in Brussels to call for an outright ban on seal products. Their call is echoed by a large majority of Members of the European Parliament who, in a 2006 resolution, opted for a total EU-wide trade and import ban on seal products.

“The Commission’s proposal is a vital step towards ending the largest slaughter of marine mammals in the world”, said Robbie Marsland, Director of IFAW UK. “It shows that the Commission has understood the importance of animal welfare for European citizens.”

However, the proposed ban allows exemptions for seal products obtained from hunts which meet certain criteria for killing seals. “We are very concerned about this loophole,” said Mr Marsland. “Only a complete ban can prevent products from these large-scale and inherently cruel hunts from entering the European markets. Harsh and unpredictable hunting conditions make it impossible to properly monitor or enforce so-called humane killing methods.”

The Commission’s position is also weaker than recent national legislation introduced in EU countries including Belgium and the Netherlands which provide complete bans. Germany and the Czech Republic have started legislative procedures to ban seal products while Italy and Austria are considering similar initiatives.

IFAW opposes commercial seal hunting because it is cruel, unsustainable and wasteful. Over the past five years, about 1.5 million harp seals were slaughtered in Canada; clubbed or shot primarily for their fur. This year, sealers reportedly killed 206,721 harp seals to date. Despite the Canadian government claiming new regulations would ensure a more humane hunt, IFAW recorded further evidence to the contrary as seals suffered slow and agonising deaths.


Notes to Editors:

·         In September 2006, the European Parliament called for an end to the trade in seal products. A total of 425 (of 732) MEPs signed a Written Declaration setting a record for the highest number of signatures on any single Written Declaration. The resolution asked the European Commission to produce a legislative proposal for a seal ban. In October 2006, the European Parliament adopted another resolution on the Animal Welfare Action Plan which calls for an EU-wide ban on seal derived products.

·         The European Union introduced in 1983 a ban on seal products derived from whitecoats (newborn harp seals, less than 12 days old) and bluebacks (young hooded seals, less than one year old). Today, seals are hunted when they are just a few days older (98% are under three months of age) and their pelts can therefore be legally traded in the EU. 

·         Four recent veterinary reports on Canada’s commercial seal hunt have documented unacceptable levels of cruelty (Burdon et al. 2001, Daoust et al. 2002, Smith et al. 2005 and Butterworth et al. 2007).

·         Scientists predict that if Canada’s commercial seal hunt continues at current high levels the harp seal population could be reduced by 70% over the next 15 years.

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