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The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) welcomed today’s EU Parliament vote for an amended version of the regulation on trade in seal products. The trade ban had to be revised in response to findings of the World Trade Organization (WTO). IFAW is delighted that the import of seal products from commercial hunts in the EU will continue to be illegal.

Canada and Norway challenged the EU trade ban for seal products at the WTO in 2009. The WTO’s final decision in 2014 was historic, as it upheld the ban, stating for the first time that moral reasons such as animal welfare concerns can be a justification for trade bans.

Photo: IFAW

Photo: IFAW

“This is a fantastic decision. It ensures WTO compliance for the EU trade ban in commercial seal products, which has already helped to save more than two million seals from a cruel death by the commercial seal hunt,” says Sonja Van Tichelen, IFAW’s EU Regional Director. “This revision makes technical legal changes while maintaining the focus on protecting animal welfare. This reflects the ethical concerns of millions of Europeans whose voices led to the EU trade ban.”

The WTO ruling found that two exceptions to the original trade ban were discriminatory, allowing seal products from management culls and the exception for indigenous seal hunts. In response, one amendment of the regulation was the removal of the Marine Resource Management exemption. This allowed fishermen, who cull seals to allegedly protect fish stocks, to sell seal parts in an attempt to recoup costs. WTO ruled this exception was not distinguishable in nature from commercial hunts and therefore was a violation.

The second change concerns the exception for Inuit and other indigenous communities. It will be maintained, but with very specific conditions focused on animal welfare, tradition and subsistence. IFAW does not, and has never, campaigned against the Inuit subsistence hunt, or the personal hunt of seals for food in Atlantic Canada.

Furthermore, an anti-circumvention clause is included to allow the Commission to prohibit products not meeting the criteria, i.e. based on evidence that the hunt is for primarily commercial purposes.

Although the EU itself was a small market for seal products, the EU ban on the trade of products has global influence and has resulted in declines of global demand for commercial seal products.

There are 35 countries which now ban the trade in seal products, most recently Armenia and including the 28 countries of the EU, Russia and the US.

The new Regulation (EC) No 1007/2009 on trade in seal products had already been informally agreed between the Council and the Parliament and will be awaiting Council adoption in the coming weeks. It is expected to come into effect on October 18, 2015, thus meeting the WTO deadline.

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