Europe to ban seal products


After weeks of speculation, Europe is to propose a ban on seal products that result from animal cruelty, the EU's environment commissioner has said.

"We will propose a ban of seal fur imports if (a country) can't prove they were obtained in a humane way" - EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas announced to the Reuters news agency at a recent informal meeting of EU environment ministers in Brdo, Slovenia.

The ban would apply not just to seal pelts, but to all goods derived from seals - including meat, vitamins and other products.

In recent weeks, articles have appeared in the press suggesting that the EU was considering a seal product ban - but, until now, Brussels has strongly denied that a ban was to be imposed, stressing that such a move was only one of a number of possible actions Europe could take. Commissioner Dimas did not give a timetable for the introduction of such a proposal, saying only - "It will take some time".

"I'm very much concerned at the way the hunt is conducted" - he said, referring to a report from the European Food Safety Authority published last December, which concluded that - 'Many seals can be - and are - killed rapidly and effectively. (But) it is not always carried out effectively and this will lead to seals feeling the skinning'.

EU member states - Belgium and the Netherlands - introduced similar bans last year, prompting Canada - where some 275,000 harp seals are killed every year during the annual hunting season - to launch a trade dispute with the EU as a whole.

Meanwhile, one of the leading international campaigners against the seal hunt - Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, whose vessel was seized recently by an elite marine squad from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police while monitoring the hunt - claimed that his team has captured footage of seals screaming while being skinned alive - evidence, he says, will be used to help convince European institutions to ban seal products.

"We haven't seen any evidence of a humane hunt here" - Mr Watson said. "We're presenting this evidence to the European Parliament. They are going to pass a bill to ban seal products. That will end the Canadian seal hunt."

Two weeks ago, a delegation from Canada - including an Inuit leader, fishermen from Newfoundland and Quebec and other regional officials - isited Brussels in an attempt to convince Europe not to ban seal products. They said the hunt was at least as humane as any other form of hunting and that it was not only a part of the Inuit lifestyle, traditionally - but to this day, the indigenous population depends on the hunt for meat and their livelihood.

Commissioner Dimas said that he would make sure that the ban would not affect the traditional Inuit hunt.