Canada, Greenland come under fire over seal hunt
Published Wednesday, January 21, 2009 12:08PM EST
BRUSSELS, Belgium - Canada and Greenland faced off against animal rights groups Wednesday over accusations their annual seal hunts are cruel and inhumane as European Union legislators mulled proposed rules that could ban their seal products in Europe.
A vote on such legislation could come as early as April, when the Canadian seal hunt gets underway. The EU member countries would still have to confirm the decision.
Rebecca Aldworth, from the Canadian branch of the International Humane Society, showed legislators videos of bloodied seal pups being clubbed and skinned, in Canadian waters, sometimes when they were still alive.
"You have before you a historic opportunity to save millions of animals from a fate you can't imagine. Please stand up and do the right thing," she told a hearing on the bill at the European Parliament.
Dressed in a traditional white Inuit sealskin jacket, Greenland Fisheries Minister Finn Karlsen insisted such a ban would "have severe and negative consequence for hunters and their families."
"Our culture and our economy are at stake and it's something I cannot accept," he said.
Representing Ottawa, Garry Stenson of Fisheries and Oceans Canada said the hunt "is humane, well regulated and sustainable," adding new rules for the hunt were under review to bolster inspections, monitoring and enforcement of animal welfare rules.
Ottawa has warned a ban could violate trade rules and threatened action if a ban was introduced.
It said a ban would decimate isolated East Coast communities that are heavily dependent on the annual hunt.
Canada's seal hunt is the largest of its kind in the world, with an average annual kill of about 300,000 harp seals.
The proposed law comes after 425 EU legislators signed a petition calling for a sealing ban in 2006 and the European Commission drafted a bill calling for a ban last year under increased pressure from animal rights groups.
British legislator Diana Wallis, who is drafting the EU assembly bill, suggested tough labelling rules were the only way to ensure sealing countries like Canada, Greenland, Finland, Sweden and others adhere to EU animal welfare rules.
The EU proposal recommends a certificate and labels be provided by countries exporting seal products making clear seal products they trade meet strict EU conditions.
"It's a very, very sensitive issue," said Slovak legislator Peter Stastny. "It has great consequences for a lot of people on many sides of the globe."
Several EU countries, such as the Netherlands and Belgium, already have their own bans on all seal products. The United States has banned Canadian seal products since 1972.