Yesterday, the European Parliament voted to ban most seal products from the European market. The legislative resolution was adopted with 550 votes in favour, 49 against and 41 abstentions.

Suggestions from the European Parliament’s will only become law if adopted by the European Council of Ministers, which represents the member states. The legislative report on the seal products ban was agreed with the European Council of Ministers in first-reading.

An exemption is allowed for indigenous communities so seal products resulting from hunts traditionally conducted by Inuit and other indigenous communities can still be imported to and marketed in European Union countries.

This deal will protect seals from cruelty and protect the Inuit people’s traditional way of life,” said Christel Schaldemose, a Danish Socialist MEP.

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Import of seal products will also be permitted where it is of an occasional nature and consists exclusively of goods for the personal use of the traveller or products that result from by-products of hunting conducted for the purpose of sustainable management of marine resources on a non-profit basis.

The legislative report was drafted by UK MEP Diana Wallis of the Alliance for Liberals and Democrats in Europe (ALDE). ALDE is the third largest political group in the European Parliament.

No ban on hunting

Seals are very beautiful marine animals, in fact, I have realized during this process that they have great PR, but to some they are the rats of the sea”, Wallis said in the debate yesterday.

That is how they are perceived by many fishermen – an adult seal gets through an enormous amount of fish on a daily basis. Therefore, there will remain the need for seals to be hunted to ensure the sustainability of fisheries in some area.

But what we have not done here is to regulate hunting,” said Wallis. “If people in any of our

member states wish to hunt, they can still continue to hunt. What they cannot do is take commercial gain from the results of that hunt. But it should be the case that the results of the hunt can be used, and I hope particularly that those parts of seals that can be used by the medical community will be able to be used.”

Today, human heart valves can be replaced with bioprosthetic valves from seals and other marine mammals.

Great progress has been made in the survival and quality of life of cardiac patients by using the aortic, pulmonary and pericardial tissue of harp seals, the assumption being that they are sustainably hunted or killed and not in a cruel way,” said Irish MEP Avril Doyle of the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats, EPP-ED. “I would like assurances on ongoing medical research and bioprosthetic use of products from seals in the context of the compromise,” she added.

The patent holder for the valve replacement process, Efstathios Andreas Agathos of Massachusetts, says the needed seal valves can be supplied by “the annual seal harvesting supported by Canadian government for population control.”

Canada will challenge ban at WTO

Canada‘s Trade Minister Stockwell Day said that Canada will challenge the trade ban at the World Trade Organization, unless an exemption is added for any country that has strict guidelines in place for humane and sustainable sealing practices.

The decision by the European Parliament lacks any basis in facts,” said Canadian Fisheries and Oceans Minister Gail Shea. “The Canadian seal hunt is guided by rigorous animal welfare principles which are internationally recognized by independent observers. I once again caution my European counterparts about the dangers of pursuing politically motivated bans on other countries’ traditional industries. Our government will stand up for the jobs and communities that depend on the seal hunt.”

The world’s largest seal hunt is conducted every spring off Canada’s Atlantic coast and Denmark, one of the main importers of raw fur sealskins to the European Union, imports seal skins directly from Canada and Greenland. Denmark and Italy are by far the two largest importers of raw fur sealskins for the EU market. Unlike Denmark, Italy imports most skins from Russia, and from the two EU members Finland and Scotland (UK). Greece will also be affected by the trade ban, but not to the same extent as Denmark and Italy since the Greece trade in raw seal skins – predominately from Finland and Scotland – is much smaller.