Saturday, January 19, 2008

Seal industry faces 'crisis' because of import bans

The Canadian Press - Wednesday, January 9, 2008


ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - Canada's centuries-old commercial sealing industry faces a "crisis" because of growing opposition throughout Europe that threatens to close vital markets, the head of the Fur Institute of Canada said Tuesday.

In a stark address to a gathering of about 100 sealers, Bruce Williams, chairman of the organization, said the future of the seal harvest is bleak if support for bans on the import of seal products continues to build in Europe.

"Unfortunately, the animal rights organizations around the world have come to realize that the easiest way to kill something - for maybe lack of a better term - is to kill the market," Williams said.

"If you can't sell the product, if it has no commercial value, then I would say that it is doomed."

Belgium and Holland have approved legislation prohibiting the sale of seal products. Germany, Italy and Austria are drafting similar legislation, prompting pressure for the European Union to adopt a ban.

While those countries aren't Canada's biggest importers of seal products, they serve as a critical shipment and manufacturing point to the larger markets of Norway, Russia and China.

Williams said there's an additional effect an EU-wide ban could have on the sealing industry.

"One thing I can tell you is that if fur is not fashionable on the runways of Paris and Milan, it's not going to be fashionable anywhere," Williams said.

"The simple reality today is the big markets are China and Russia, but they want things that are in style, and style is not dictated by those countries. It's dictated by the countries in Europe."

Even Loyola Sullivan, Canada's fisheries ambassador, acknowledged Tuesday that efforts to overcome the anti-sealing lobby in Europe would be tough.

"It's difficult because it's advanced so far," Sullivan said.

"It's got a tremendous foothold in Europe, and most people close to the situation feel that a ban by other countries is imminent, that it's gone too far. It would be unpopular now for a member of parliament in a European country to support the hunt."

In September, Canada launched a challenge to the World Trade Organization in an effort to persuade the Belgian and Dutch governments to reverse their bans, arguing their policies were rooted in misinformation spread in large part by animal rights groups. Ottawa's complaint remains before the WTO.

Mark Small, a former president of the Canadian Sealing Association and longtime sealer, said even though Canada's hunt is the most sustainable in the world, his fellow hunters may have to accept some changes in their practices, such as different measures to cull the seals.

"I'm definitely sure that, as a sealer myself, we can do a better job than we've been doing in the past," Small said. "We've got to make some compromises if we're going to protect our future industry in this province."

How You Can Help

The European Union is looking for feedback from the general public on issues relating to the animal welfare aspects of killing of seals and the importing of seal products to Europe. Your opinions will help the EU in making new policies.

To participate in the survey, please go to:

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