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Culture
EU seal ban

Euro parliament evenly split on seals

There is growing support for preserving an exemption to the EU seal-import ban that benefits Inuit hunters. Supporters still predict a nail-biter of a vote
Culture
MEP Obermayr (right), voting with his mouth

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With the European Union facing an October deadline to alter the wording of its ban on seal imports, it remains uncertain whether the revised measure will include changes that will make it easier for Inuit groups to sell their products in Europe.

“There’s a line running straight down the middle of parliament,” said Franz Obermayr, an Austrian member of the European Parliament. “It’s really 50-50.”

Obermayr and other MEPs were on hand Tuesday and Wednesday as a group of 30 Greenlanders demonstrated outside the European Parliament’s building in Strasbourg in favour of relaxing the ban.

SEE RELATED: A seal of disapproval

The ban currently includes an exemption that permits the sale of pelts from animals killed as part of subsistence hunting by Greenlandic hunters. But after a WTO decision last year suggested the exemption discriminated against Canadian and Norwegian hunters, the EU must now make changes to the measure.

Inuit groups have long argued that even with the exemption the ban undermines hunters’ livelihoods by souring consumer tastes against sealskin. Many have expressed concern that any new wording would cut the exemption entirely.

Those fears were allayed somewhat last month when Bendt Bendsten, an MEP from Denmark, put forward a draft of the revised ban that included changes that would make it easier for Inuit hunters to sell sealskin to Europe.

At the same time, the draft removes language that the Inuit say unfairly represents seal hunting, including descriptions of it as inhumane.

SEE RELATED: Editor’s Briefing | Seals

The draft narrowly passed a vote in the trade committee, where it was introduced, though only though heavy lobbying by Mr Bendtsen, a number of sources indicated.

Proponents of keeping the ban in place argued on Tuesday against hunting seal and other animals in the wild on the grounds that raising animals for meat was more ethical than hunting.

Others also expressed concern that hunting was neither necessary as a source of food or as an economic activity.

Aaju Peter, a spokesperson for Inuit Sila, a Danish-based lobby group representing Greenlandic hunters, challenged such thinking, pointing out that it failed to take into account the realities of life in the Arctic.

SEE RELATED: Seal ban undermines EU credibility in Arctic

“We can’t grow food and the food we can buy is among the costliest in the world,” Ms Peter, who lives in Nunavut, said. “Hunting seals provides food for the community and it provides families with a livelihood.”

Mr Obermayr also suggested that measures such as the import ban that made subsistence hunting more difficult went against the EU’s general support for promoting traditional activities.

“Hunting is what the Inuit do, and it was benefits them most,” he said. “I don’t think we should be telling them otherwise.”

The Arctic Journal is in Strasbourg at the inivitation of Iniut Sila.