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Seals Score a Victory in Europe

The European Parliament passes a resolution calling for an EU ban on harp and hooded seal products

The Humane Society of the United States

By Rebecca Aldworth

Strasbourg, France—Today is a truly historic day for the seals. On Sept. 6, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling upon the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, to ban all trade in harp and hooded seal products. This is a crucial step towards the passage of legislation that will save millions of seals from a horrible fate.

In the 1980s, the European ban on the import of products from newborn, white-coated seals brought Canada's commercial seal hunt to a virtual standstill. To sidetstep that ban, the Canadian government allows sealers to slaughter baby seals as soon as they begin to shed their white fur—as young as 12 days of age. The majority of the seals killed in the past few years have been under one month old.

The pups are killed for their fur, most of which is traded in European fashion markets. When the European Union bans the trade in all products from harp and hooded seals—regardless of their age—it will eliminate a market essential to Canada's commercial sealing industry. Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands are already in the process of implementing their own bans.

Clearly, Canada's Fisheries minister, Loyola Hearn, understands the enormity of such a ban. Last week he traveled to Belgium, attempting to convince that country to reconsider a prohibition on the import of seal products. In a statement that drew some criticism from his countrymen, Hearn said that Belgium's ban would take "the livelihood away from a number of Canadians whose family members left their blood on the fields here in Belgium, Flanders fields and other places" during World War II.

Emerging information from Norway also has Hearn under pressure, calling further into question his steadfast claims that the seal-fur industry is thriving and that sealers cannot keep up with demand. This June, it was revealed that the chief purchaser of Canadian seal skins, Norway's government-subsidized GC Rieber, had been paid by its government to burn 10,000 seal skins because it was impossible to find a market for those skins. This is is further proof that the seal hunt is kept alive by government subsidies, not demand.

"The future looks good for seals."

A majority of the EU's 732 members of Parliament needed to sign on for the resolution to pass. As the last member necessary to reach that majority signed the declaration, I saw tears of joy appear as I looked around the room.

How different those tears were from the tears shed on the ice during the seal hunt, where I've witnessed horrific cruelty for the past eight years. In the face of so much cruelty, and the determination of the sealing industry and Canadian government to continue the slaughter, it's so important to remember that, step by step, we are winning the battle to save the seals.

Today was a hopeful reminder of that. In passing this resolution to ban seal products, the European Parliament has expressed the will of the overwhelming majority of its citizens. Maybe the Canadian government will now follow suit, listen to Canadians, and end the seal hunt.

Regardless, the writing is on the wall for Canada's sealing industry. The news of this resolution has spread across the Canadian media, and from here in Strasbourg, the future looks good for the seals.

Rebecca Aldworth is Director of Canadian Wildlife Issues for The HSUS.