Canada and Greenland faced off against animal rights groups on Wednesday over accusations their annual seal hunts are cruel, as EU lawmakers considered proposals that could bar their seal products in the EU.
The European parliament’s vote on such legislation could take place as early as April, when the Canadian seal hunt gets under way.
The measure needs the approval of all 27 EU member states to become law.
The EU executive commission’s proposed ban targets countries that practice “cruel hunting methods.”
The law would only allow the import of seal products from countries that can guarantee their hunting practices are “consistent with high animal-welfare standards” and that the animals are killed without undue suffering. Special exemptions would also be allowed for Canada’s and Greenland’s Inuit communities.
Rebecca Aldworth, from the Canadian branch of the International Humane Society, showed lawmakers videos of bloodied seal pups being clubbed and skinned in Canadian waters, sometimes when they were still alive.
“You have before you a historic opportunity to save millions of animals from a fate you can’t imagine. Please stand up and do the right thing,” she told a hearing on the bill at the EU’s assembly.
Greenland Fisheries Minister Finn Karlsen, dressed in a traditional white Inuit sealskin jacket, insisted such a ban would “have severe and negative consequence for hunters and their families.”
“Our culture and our economy are at stake and it’s something I cannot accept,” he told lawmakers.
Canadian fisheries ministry representative Garry Stenson said the hunt “is humane, well regulated and sustainable” and that new rules for the hunt were under review to strengthen inspections, monitoring and enforcement of animal welfare rules.
Canada has said a ban could violate trade rules and it threatened action if a ban was introduced. It said a ban would decimate isolated east coast communities that are heavily dependent on the annual hunt.
Canada’s East Coast seal hunt is the largest of its kind in the world, with an average annual kill of about 300,000 harp seals.
British lawmaker Diana Wallis, who is drafting the EU assembly bill, suggested tough labeling rules were the only way to ensure sealing countries Canada, Greenland, Finland, Sweden and others adhere to EU animal welfare rules.
The EU proposal recommends a certificate and labels be provided by countries exporting seal products making clear seal products they trade meet strict EU conditions.
Several EU nations, such as the Netherlands and Belgium, already have their own bans on all seal products. The US has banned Canadian seal products since 1972.
Canada’s largest markets for seal products, such as Russia, China and Norway, are outside the EU. But sealing industry experts fear a ban would curb the demand for sealskins from the fashion industry and disrupt shipping routes.