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Protecting Seals

DW staff (win)July 24, 2008

The European Commission has proposed banning products made from seals killed in inhumane ways. A former film diva and the world's largest seal hunting nation are not happy with the plan -- albeit for different reasons.

A blood-covered seal lying on ice
EU officials haven't clearly defined 'humane' killingImage: AP

The EU proposal would ban seal products from the bloc's market unless they were proven to come from animals that had been killed with "hunting techniques consistent with high animal-welfare standards" and that the animals did not suffer more than necessary.

Seals are hunted mainly for their pelts but also for meat and fat, which is used in beauty products.

A hunter clubs a seal in Canada
A hunter clubs a seal in CanadaImage: AP

"The images of seal hunting that circulate around the globe every year are a reminder of the often gruesome practices used to kill seals," EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas told journalists.

"European citizens find these practices repugnant and in contradiction to our standards of animal welfare," he added.

The ban still has to be approved by EU governments and the European Parliament.

Slippery slope?

The main target country of the ban is Canada, where hunters slaughtered some 275,000 seals along the Atlantic coast this year. Canada accounts for nearly a third of young seals killed each year.

Stephen Harper pointing a finger
Harper is cautioning the EU against a banImage: AP

Canadian Premier Stephen Harper already voiced his opposition to the plan early this month, saying that his country "will not stand by and accept measures that fly in the face of accepted international practices."

His fisheries minister, Loyola Hearn, on Wednesday, July 23, also warned EU officials against going down a "slippery slope."

"To bow to misinformation and emotional rhetoric in restricting the trade of humanely harvested animals would set a dangerous precedent for all wild hunts," he said.

Hearn added that seals were killed humanely in Canada and seal products from his country would therefore not be affected by the ban.

Fisheries department spokesman Phil Jenkins meanwhile told AFP news service that the EU has "not said exactly what they will consider to be humane or inhumane, so we don't know yet what bar we have to reach to comply."

Canada, Greenland and Namibia account for about 60 percent of the 900,000 seals hunted each year. Seals are also hunted in Iceland, Norway, Russia, and the United States as well as in EU members Britain, Finland and Sweden.

"A historic step"

Animal rights activists meanwhile welcomed the proposal.

"This announcement is a historic step forward in the campaign to end cruel commercial seal hunts," said Mark Glover, head of the British arm of the Humane Society.

Brigitee Bardot
Bardot is generally pleased with the banImage: AP

French actress-turned-animal-activist Brigitte Bardot, who has led a campaign against the killing of seals, regretted that "slaughters will continue as long as they are done in a humane way."

But Bardot, who has made headlines in the past few years for supporting ultra-right politicians in France, was still happy about the plan.

"A 30-year-long battle ... is about to be won," Bardot told AP news service.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has reportedly assured Bardot that "everything would be done" during the French presidency of the European Union to adopt a law banning imports of seal products in the EU.