Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq is defending Canada’s sealing industry at a World Trade Organization hearing in Geneva, saying the seal hunt is “humane, sustainable and well-regulated.”

In a statement delivered to the trade organization’s appellate body on Monday, Aglukkaq called the European Union’s ban on imported seal products “unfair,” and based on “myths.”

The WTO ruled last November that the EU ban on imported seal products undermines international trade obligations, but is justified due to "public moral concerns" for animal welfare.

But Aglukkaq said “the assertion that what we have been doing for thousands of years is so morally wrong as to justify a trade prohibition is very troubling.

“Any law or regulation that purports to be based on the public morality defence should be subject to close judicial scrutiny,” she said in the statement Monday.

Canada and Norway are challenging the 2010 EU ban on the import and sale of seal fur, meat, blubber and other products. Canada, Norway, Greenland and Namibia all have commercial seal hunts.

Animal rights advocates have applauded the ban, but the Canadian government and supporters of the seal hunt have said the embargo contravenes trade regulations and discriminates against Inuit hunters.

Aglukkaq told the WTO hearing that while Canadian seal products are banned, the EU still allows seal products from Greenland to be marketed in Europe “without any regard for the manner in which they are hunted.

“In other words, the EU Seal Regime does nothing to actually keep seal products out of the EU market or away from the EU public,” she said. “It simply replaces seal products that used to come from Canada and Norway with seal products that come from places like Greenland and the European Union.”

Aglukkaq said sealing has played an “integral role” in the economic development of Canadian communities on the northern and eastern coasts and must be preserved.

“Not only does it provide a livelihood for our families, but the seal hunt enables our communities to maintain their traditions and way of life,” she said.

Rebecca Aldworth, director of Canadian Wildlife at Humane Society of the United States, told The Canadian Press that WTO based its ruling on veterinary science that suggests seals are killed inhumanely.

“There are equally compelling arguments that Europeans find this morally objectionable and don’t want those products on their market,” Aldworth said.

Aglukkaq, who represents Nunavut and is also the minister of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, told the WTO that sealing is part of her own “culture and heritage.”

The WTO hearing is expected to last three days.

According to the European Commission, about 900,000 seals are hunted around the world each year.

If the WTO rejects the appeal, the Canadian sealing industry and Inuit groups will follow up with an ongoing legal appeal through the European Court of Justice.

With files from The Canadian Press