NEWS: Nunavut July 27, 2009 - 2:37 pm

European Union council approves seal product ban

“The seal ban is an abomination because it directly attacks cultures, communities, and livelihood"

JANE GEORGE

You can wear a sealskin vest if you travel to Belgium, and you can even give away sealskin trinkets, but don’t plan on selling a seal product there or in any other nation in the European Union unless you can prove it comes from a traditional Inuit hunt.

The Council of the European Union approved a ban on sealskin products in its 27 member nations at a July 27 meeting in Brussels.

The ban is a “response to concerns about the animal welfare aspects of seal hunting practices,” said the council members in a statement on their decision.

The new restrictions apply to all products and processed goods derived from seals, including fur, meat, oil and omega-3 pills made from seal oil.

The ban exempts products from traditional hunts carried out by Inuit in Canada as well as in Greenland, Alaska and Russia. The ban still allows Canada to ship seal products through Europe, but it bars the promotion of these products.

The council says trade is permitted where “it is of an occasional nature and consists exclusively of goods for the personal use of the travelers” or results “from by-products of hunting [and] conducted for the purpose of sustainable management of marine resources on a non-profit basis.”

Denmark abstained from supporting the ban.

The new rules will become effective in nine months.

All Inuit from Russia, Alaska, Canada, and Greenland are standing in solidarity against the EU on this, said Violet Ford, the vice-president of international affairs at the Inuit Circumpolar Council in a July 27 news release.

“The seal ban is an abomination because it directly attacks cultures, communities, and livelihoods that represent a basic means of living for many here in Canada, using groundless accusations influenced by animal rights propaganda campaigns,” Mary Simon, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, also said in the news release.

“And today we are witnessing the EU’s willingly ignore its own trade rules and relations to please certain myopic self-interests while trying to claim some moral high ground—it doesn’t add up. We are deeply disappointed that EU Ministers did not show more insight and courage than the EU Parliament in confronting the misinformation campaigns targeting Europe in recent years. This is a very cynical and unjustified decision by the EU Ministers and it flies in the face of the EU’s own conservation, veterinary and legal advice.”

Simon said Inuit leaders discussed possible legal and human rights actions at ITK’s annual general meeting last month.

“We want to keep our options open and effective domestically and internationally based on the protection of our human rights, our culture, and our economic interests in the Arctic.”

Canada plans to challenge the ban at the World Trade Organization, the only international body dealing with the rules of trade between nations.

“We are very disappointed with this ruling,” federal trade minister Stockwell Day said in Montreal. “We believe strongly this violates the World Trade Organization guidelines. Associations of veterinarians and others have determined that Canada’s hunt is indeed humanitarian, scientific and follows environmental rules of sustainability.”

Day said that making a decision on trade is “inappropriate” when it’s not based on the science.

“And for that reason we are announcing that we’ll be pursuing an appeal of this vote today. We want it made very clear that there should be a clause which reflects any country that is following the humanitarian, scientific and environmental guidelines established by the EU themselves, should in fact be exempted from this particular ban.”

Norway also says it will challenge the ban at the WTO.

Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak told Nunatsiaq News she’s “very disappointed” that EU ministers upheld the ban, and said the Government of Nunavut will keep on educating the world about the Inuit seal hunt and lobbying to reverse the ban on seal products.

“We will keep working with other organizations and Canada in trying to look at alternative ways of dealing with that situation,” she said.

Aariak said the GN has been preparing for a possible ban for several years, even before EU parliamentarians first voted 550-49 last May in favour of the ban.

To counteract the ban’s financial impact, the GN wants to bolster the market for sealskin products within the territory and Canada, Aariak said.

“I think that’s another way of making sure that the demand is there,” she said.

But Aariak doesn’t support the idea of direct government subsidies to seal hunters who are likely to take a financial hit from the ban, although the ban will not affect products from traditional hunts.

“Money hand-outs are never a solution to self-reliance in the communities,” she said.
Reacting to the news of the ban, Leona Aglukkaq, MLA for Nunavut, said in a statement “in these difficult economic times, Canadian and northern sealers need our support now more than ever.”

“Inuit are involved in the commercial hunt too, and this ban will have a big impact on Inuit communities,” Aglukkaq said. “It’s a shame that the EU didn’t consult the Inuit before making their decision.”