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Norway and Canada appeal seal ban

Saying the EU is favouring its members, Norwegians and Canadian hunters want their products back on European shelves
The harp seal is the most common variety found in the north (Photo: Wikipedia)

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Norway and Canada have appealed a WTO ruling that supported an EU ban on the import and sale of seal products.

The WTO ruled in November that while objections by Norway and Canada to the 2010 EU ban had some merit, it was outweighed by concerns about seal welfare.

Arguments by Norway and Canada insisted that their seal hunting methods were humane and no worse than commercial deer hunting methods used throughout the EU. The WTO countered that most EU residents favoured the ban and that killing methods like using a club with a metal spike to stun seals before killing them are cruel.

Both countries said hunting is a time-honoured method for fishing communities to earn income and manage fish stocks.

The Norwegians and Canadians called the ban discriminatory because seal products from EU members Sweden and Finland are not banned.

Hard times for Inuit
Greenland’s Inuit population is exempt from the ban, but they say it has ruined the market for their seal products too.

Danish lawmakers have said they will keep the pressure on the EU to ensure that Europe keeps its market open to Greenlandic sealskin.

“Most people know that we support a sustainable seal hunt in Greenland,” Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the Danish PM, said in an interview late last year “We always have, and we’ve been at the forefront when the discussion has come up in the EU.”

A WTO decision last year cast doubt on whether the EU’s Inuit exemption was legal. The exemption permits products which come from seals hunted by the Inuit, but the WTO concluded the rule was discriminatory and that there was no way to control whether seals had been killed by subsistence hunters.

SEE RELATED: Sealskin all the rage in Copenhagen

According to biologists, there are 12 million seals living in Greenlandic waters. Hunters kill as many as 200,000 a year. Most of the meat is used as food, and about half of the hides are used locally for clothing.

Last November, both the WWF and Greenpeace came out in favour of Greenland’s seal hunt, which they labelled as sustainable.

Exports of sealskin from Greenland have fallen from 60 million to 6 million since 2006, and Tønnes Berthelsen, a spokesperson for Greenland’s Professional Hunting and Fishing Organisation (KNAPK) said that families in Greenland are suffering.

“These are not huge commercial enterprises,” said Berthelsen. “These are families that can no longer sustain themselves.”

READ MORE: Environment groups OK Greenland seal hunt

Berthelsen said hunters know they have an uphill battle against what he called a “professional propaganda campaign” against seal hunting. He said that grisly images of snow stained with seal blood do not reflect the reality of Greenlandic hunters who shoot a small number of mature seals every year.

“Those pictures are not from Greenland,” said Berthelsen.

The Norwegian and Canadian appeals were filed on Friday. WTO appeal rulings are usually issued within three months.