The EU Parliament’s Ban on Seal Products Demands an Innovative Response
In a long-anticipated move, the European Parliament has passed a bill that will ban the import of seal products, with very limited exceptions for Inuit communities. Canada, which carries out the largest seal hunts in the world, will be more severely affected by the ban than any other nation.
Inevitably, the European ban has touched off a discussion in Canada about how to respond. None of the commentary I’ve seen has been too sympathetic to the European attitude, which seems to be based primarily on emotive images of hunters clubbing helpless young seals and secondarily on a misconception that such clubbing is a particularly inhumane method of killing. However, some Canadians do think that the hunt is no longer worth the annual fuss associated with it, and the general damage to Canada’s image in other Western countries. Thomas Walkom, in the Toronto Star, puts this argument in what I think is its most dispassionate and convincing form:
Fashions come and go, as do industries. If the rest of the world, for whatever reason, doesn’t want to clothe itself in baby sealskin, why insist that it should?
This a reasonable enough question – but then again, the ban would be superfluous if there were not a significant number of people in Europe who would be quite happy to clothe themselves in sealskin. The EU, in typical nannying fashion, is simply taking this option away from its own citizens. Also, the point remains that the EU and America (which has banned Canadian seal products since 1972) do not exactly constitute “the rest of the world”. We currently export a lot of our seal products to Norway (not an EU country) and Russia, and the potential for growth in Asia may be vast. If the rest of the world, for whatever reason, doesn’t want to buy whatever you’re selling, the answer may lie in good marketing.
Another possibility is domestic consumption. Canadians who share my own annoyance at this display of squeamish European hostility towards a perfectly good industry might want to consider what we can actually do with dead seals ourselves. The honourable members of the House of Commons suggested that we could use their skins to bedeck our Olympic team, but no one else – least of all Mike Chambers, president of the Canadian Olympic Committee – seems to think this is remotely a good idea. On the other hand, seal leather is apparently perfectly serviceable, and Distinctive Sealeather of Blaketown, Newfoundland offers quite a range of products. The bad news, from the perspective of those not lucky enough to live in Blaketown, is that they can’t be ordered online. Other retailers that advertise seal products seem to be few and far between, at least in cyberspace.
I can see the value in developing potential overseas markets, and even in challenging the European ban at the WTO. But surely we also need entrepreneurs who can make seal products more readily available to Canadians.