World Trade Organization upholds EU seal ban

Josh Pennell
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Pro-hunt advocate calls reasoning ‘flimsy excuse’

Moral public concern for animal welfare was the reason given Monday for the World Trade Organization (WTO) upholding the European Union’s ban on imported seal products, but people on the pro-sealing side of the argument aren’t buying the WTO aligning the bearing of their moral compass with that of the people.

Wayde George handles pelts at the seal tannery in Dildo. It’s a labour-intensive process that takes more than three weeks to fully cure and tan a sealskin.

“I’ve heard tell of flimsy excuses, but this takes the cake,” says Frank Pinhorn of the Canadian Sealers Association.

Pinhorn contends the decision was not made because of any deep sense of moral obligation, but because of public pressure that’s flourished from falsehoods and spin from anti-sealing groups.

Pinhorn also sees the ban and the WTO’s decision to uphold it as hypocrisy.

“There’s hundreds of thousands of seals killed in Europe and they’re not trained, educated or anything,” he says. “They’ve had to reissue licenses in the Baltic states, and in Greenland they take over 100,000 seals. It might be for subsistence purposes, but they still take a lot of seals.”

Greenland is not a member of the EU as such, but because of its association with Denmark, it is listed as one of the Overseas Countries and Territories of the EU.

In any event, Pinhorn is also referring to members of the EU who have reissued sealing licences and carried out culls due to large seal populations. The imbalance in the ecosystem caused by large seal populations is still one of the strongholds of pro-sealing groups, as is the argument made by Pinhorn that Canada has one of the most regulated seal hunts of its kind in the world.

The EU ban exempts seal products resulting from Inuit or other aboriginal hunts, along with those carried out solely to manage ocean resources.

Pinhorn says banning products except for Inuit and aboriginal hunts is pointless.

“If you bring down the commercial seal harvest, it’s going to kill the whole thing anyway,” he says. “There’s no such thing as an exemption for Inuit and native populations because they can’t put enough material into the marketplace to establish a price.”


Pleased with decision

Sheryl Fink, director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s (IFAW) seal campaign, was pleased with the WTO’s decision. She disagrees with Pinhorn’s assessment of the Inuit and aboriginal exemption because, from her research, very few Inuit sealskins went to the EU anyway.

“I’m not really sure how much of this is a real impact on Inuit sealing and how much of it is politics and media spin that’s happening here,” she says. “It kind of makes you wonder what’s really behind all this.”

Immediately following the WTO decision, the Canadian government announced it would appeal the decision.

Fink says the result of that is unknown, so the IFAW is not relaxing in its anti-seal hunt endeavours.

Still, given such moves as the initial EU ban and this WTO decision, she wonders if it’s time for people to take off the blinders, regardless of their stance on the hunt.

“It’s time to take a realistic look at the industry and what are the realistic expectations of the future of the sealing industry and what can be realistic expectations for future markets.”

Pinhorn argues the industry would be worth $15 million to $20 million annually if it was allowed to grow like a normal industry. The demand for products is as strong as ever, but politics is interfering with the flow of goods, he says.

Following the sitting of the House of Assembly Monday, provincial Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture Keith Hutchings spoke to the media. He called the decision of the WTO “unfortunate.”

Asked if the ruling would hurt the industry, Hutchings replied, "Not at all. If you look at what we’ve seen in the last couple years, I mean, we’ve seen an increase of about 30 per cent last year over the prior year. It’s up to over 90,000. That’s a significant improvement."

Hutchings said the government is continuing to explore other markets, such as China.

The federal government has 60 days to officially appeal the WTO’s decision.

Organizations: World Trade Organization, EU, Canadian Sealers Association Overseas Countries International Fund for Animal Welfare

Geographic location: Greenland, Europe, Denmark Canada China

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