Landmark WTO case pitting EU animal welfare and public morals versus trade concerns begins Monday in Geneva

Friday, 15 February, 2013
Brussels, Belgium

The first hearing on the EU’s controversial ban on seal products begins Monday in Geneva at the World Trade Organization (WTO). The three members of the WTO’s dispute settlement panel established for this case will hear arguments from Canada and Norway attacking the EU’s ban on the importation and sale of seal products while the EU will submit its initial defence of the ban.

“This case will determine to what extent citizens can influence the societies in which they live.” said Sonja Van Tichelen, IFAW’s European Regional Director. “Can citizens in Europe and elsewhere stop something which concerns them greatly, in this case trading in seal products from the inherently cruel commercial seal industry, or does international trade trump their legitimate concerns?”

The case has been a long time coming. Canada, one of the most active countries at the WTO with 137 cases, threatened to go to WTO dispute settlement from the time the EU ban on seal products was overwhelming approved by the European Parliament in 2009.

Whereas the general principles of the WTO promote trade liberalization and non-discrimination, the rules cater for countries to introduce policies to protect public morality and animal health, as well as other non-trade concerns such as the environment. The WTO panel will thus now be asked to rule whether the EU sales ban violates WTO rules in the first place, an allegation which the EU rightly rejects. If the panel finds such a violation, however, it will have to rule on the question whether the EU’s ban is nonetheless justified because it is necessary to respond to citizens legitimate moral concerns about the welfare of seals.

“IFAW has been observing the hunt and campaigning to end the trade in seal products for over 40 years,” continued Van Tichelen. “We’ve supplied the EU Commission with all of our expertise, footage and also submitted an Amicus Curiae brief to the WTO.”

A compilation video of examples of cruelty from the 2011 Canadian commercial seal hunt can be found here: Since the ban came into effect a compelling video of cruelty infractions has also come to light in Norway. The footage was taken in 2009 by a Norwegian government sealing inspector who subsequently faced threats for actually reporting the infractions.

“There is overwhelming evidence that it is practically impossible to conduct a humane commercial seal hunt. The EU seal legislation was therefore the only way forward. It represents a huge animal welfare victory and since its approval the number of seals killed in the inherently cruel commercial seal hunts has plummeted,” said Sheryl Fink, IFAW Director, Canada Seals Campaign and veteran seal hunt observer. “We urge the members of the WTO panel to listen to the evidence, watch the images of the seals suffering in so many ways, and draw the only logical conclusion.”

IFAW calls on the EU Commission to continue to stand strong in its defense of this victory of public morality – a democratically achieved and legitimate sales ban on cruel seal products.


High resolution images from the Canadian commercial seal hunt, the May 5th, 2009 vote in Strasbourg when MEPs voted in favour of the EU seal ban and images of Harp seals are available at

IFAW’s briefing on the WTO case can be found here:

The ban on the trade in seal products entered into force on 20 November 2009.

This announcement follows the publication of the new legislation in the EU’s Official Journal.

In practical terms full enforcement of Regulation 1007/2009 only began on 20 August 2010.

The EU ban on seal products is targeted at commercial seal hunts. The largest three commercial seal hunts globally are in Canada, Norway and Namibia.

There is an exemption in the EU legislation for Inuit and subsistence hunting of seals.

Canada and Norway both signalled prior to the commencement of the EU ban that they would enter a challenge at the WTO. Formal consultations at the WTO began in November 2009.

The EU’s submission to the WTO can be found here:

Follow @svantichelen on Twitter for updates during the hearing

Post a comment

Press Contact

Contact: Adrian Hiel – (IFAW EU)
Contact phone:
+32 473 86 34 61
Contact email:
Sheryl Fink (IFAW CA)
Contact phone:
+32 (0) 477 246 077
Contact email:
Sonja Van Tichelen (IFAW EU)
Contact phone:
+32 (0) 477 246 077
Contact email:


Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
Country Director, United States
Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Senior Advisor, Policy Development
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Regional Director, Russia & CIS
Regional Director, Russia & CIS
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation
Peter LaFontaine, Campaigns Manager, IFAW Washington, D.C.
Campaigns Manager, IFAW Washington, D.C.
Sonja Van Tichelen, Vice President of International Operations
Vice President of International Operations
Staci McLennan, Director, EU Office
Director, EU Office
Tania McCrea-Steele, Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime