World Trade Organization condemns dolphins to cruelty with ruling

Yesterday, the World Trade Organization ruled against the U.S. dolphin-safe label requirement, dealing a major blow both to US consumers and dolphins. 

This ruling is a troubling precedent that will give pause to global leaders as they consider whether even voluntary environmental or animal welfare standards might be deemed trade barriers. 

With today’s worrisome decision, both dolphins and consumers suffer.

The Pacific Ocean west of Mexico is home to both large tuna and dolphins.  The killing of dolphins as a byproduct of tuna fishing in this region is a long-standing animal welfare concern because of both the number of dolphins killed (to say nothing of the tuna) and the extremely cruel death by drowning suffered by the animals caught in nets.

According to the U.S. government, the number of dolphins killed in this fishery in the last 60 years may be over 6 million animals, the highest known for any global fishery.  And even the present level of 1,000 drowned dolphins a year is unacceptably high.

By 1994, only tuna caught using methods that did not include purposefully setting on and capturing dolphins were allowed to be labeled as “dolphin-safe” and sold in the U.S.  By 1999, as a result of this voluntary labeling scheme and other advances, the mortality rate of dolphins had fallen to fewer than 3,000 animals a year in these tuna fisheries. 

This was, we find out today, a short-lived victory for the animals.

The interests of communities, the environment and animals, are intertwined and need not be in opposition to each other.  This labeling scheme is good for dolphins as well as consumers and responsible producers and we must not roll back these protections.   

The WTO is an important avenue through which the global community can address issues regarding animal welfare and trade. Our next chance at reaffirming the value of animals in the context of global trade comes when Canada’s challenge of the EU seal ban proceeds, perhaps as early as this year. 


To find out more about our work to support the ban and to take action to defend seals and other animals, click here

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
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