Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Europe's seal product ban is exercise in hypocrisy

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As symbols go, nothing quite sums up the European Union's move to ban seal product imports more than the stuffed white-coat seal pups handed out by anti-sealing activists before the vote last week at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.

Hunting of white-coat seal pups has been illegal in Canada since 1987. That, however, hasn't stopped anti-seal-hunt activists from prominently using images of bloodied white-coats for years to whip up public sentiment against the hunt in Europe, noted federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea.

And, make no mistake, the EU seal products ban was in large part about bowing to public opinion, not making decisions based on science, especially with European Parliament elections just weeks away.

As Diana Wallis, vice-president of the European Parliament, put it this week, referring to strong lobbying and the anti-sealing pressure from the electorate: "I'm afraid that we have had to listen to them and we have had to act accordingly."

Ottawa is right to indicate it will challenge the ban at the World Trade Organization. Norway and Greenland may do the same. Canada wants an exemption for the seal hunt if conducted under international standards proving it's humane and sustainable.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is also right not to tie the seal hunt dispute to efforts to forge a sweeping bilateral free-trade deal with Europe that could generate billions in increased economic activity in Canada.

The WTO process, however, will be no quick fix. In the short term, the EU ban will hurt sealers and Inuit communities which rely on sealing for part of their income. Ottawa estimates the industry, upon which some 6,000 families rely, could lose half its $13-million annual value as a result.

What's most galling, of course, is that while EU politicians targeted the seal hunt as "inherently inhumane," Europe still permits the slaughter of animals in ways that many may find objectionable. There is bullfighting in Spain, where the animals are ritualistically killed for the entertainment of spectators; large-scale fur farming in countries such as Denmark and Holland; the slaughter of whales in the Danish Faroe Islands; and large-scale consumption of horsemeat, often taken from very young animals, in countries such as Italy, France and Germany.

Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams is right. EU politicians are hypocrites.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 12, 2009 A11

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