July 24, 2008

EU Proposes Law To Limit Cruelty To Seals

On Wednesday the European Commission approved plans to ban the import of seal pelts that have undergone extreme suffering when being killed.  The ban may cause trade conflicts with hunting countries.

While the EU stopped just short of a total ban, the governing body stated that products from the 900,000 seals hunted annually should be received in the EU only with assurance that the seal has been killed through humane means.

European environmentalists and politicians have demanded action after finding evidence that seals are often skinned while still alive, though none of the 15 seal species hunted are endangered.

Normally, the seals are hit over the head with a spiked club called a hakapik or are shot.

"European citizens find these practices repugnant," said Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas. "Seal products coming from countries which practice hunting methods that involve unnecessary pain and suffering must not be allowed to enter the EU."

The Netherlands and Belgium both imposed their own bans on seal furs and vitamin products last year giving rise to trade complaints from Canada on the grounds that their accusations of cruelty were unproven.

According to Dimas, the ban would not cover subsistence hunting by Inuits, or hunts that been proven to be humane.

"It is very difficult to define what is humane," he said. "Personally, I don't like killing of any kind, but we will follow what science is telling us does not cause unnecessary pain and suffering to animals."

Last year, a European Food Safety Authority report showed various causes of unnecessary cruelty to seals.  One case highlighted a method of trapping seals underwater so they die by drowning.

The report suggested that seals first be clubbed or shot and then checked to see if they are dead before being skinned. In so doing, hunters would ensure that the seal never regains consciousness during the process.

Animal welfare group IFAW were in agreement with the move but said anything other than a full ban would be difficult to enforce.

60 percent of the 900,000 seals hunted each year are killed in Canada, Greenland, and Namibia.  The other 40 percent are killed in the U.S., Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, Finland, and Britain.

According to Dimas, about one third of seal trade products made their way through the 27 state EU while traveling to their final markets.  The routes have given the EU a powerful tool in controlling their trade.

Many EU delegates have already called for a ban, so the new proposal is expected to receive strong support.  The proposed ban will also need the approval of EU member states before it can become law.