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The EU Parliament’s Ban on Seal Products Demands an Innovative Response

May 8, 2009

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.


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5 Comments leave one →
  1. jay permalink
    May 11, 2009 11:24 am

    What to do? well, I suppose we could stop bludgeoning baby seals to death in front of their mothers. Or we could create a new and morally equivalent industry: bludgeoning puppies to death in front of their mothers (seals are basically the ocean’s version of dogs, and they’re at least as intelligent). Think of all the jobs! Only bleeding-heart floofy-faggoty squeamish greenie pinko leftist queers could be opposed to the manly, heroic, traditional Canadian puppy-skull-bashing-and-skinning-alive-industry! The skins make perfectly serviceable leather, and we can ship the meat to Asian delis. It’s just a matter of marketing. And unlike the seasonal seal-baby slaughtering industry, puppy-slaughering can be undertaken year-round. Some of the poorest people in Canada will benefit! Whole trailer parks could be equipped with this viable new industry! Kill puppies now!!

    • corsullivan permalink*
      May 11, 2009 12:30 pm

      I’m well aware that you intended your post as satire, but it brings up a good question – why are we so squeamish about killing and eating dogs, as a culture? I’m not sure about the quality of the leather, but I did once get the opportunity to try dog meat at a dinner in Inner Mongolia, and I found that it had a pleasant, slightly gamey flavour that actually reminded me of venison. So yes, I’d be all in favour of a puppy-bludgeoning industry. I agree with you that this would be morally equivalent to bludgeoning young seals, and I really don’t have a problem with either.

  2. May 8, 2009 2:23 pm

    Good post. As a child of 12 in the spring of 1976 I had occasion to witness the seal hunt up close.
    Was it pretty? No.
    Was it barbarous? Definitely not.

    Like any other harvesters the seal hunters are doing what needs to be done to secure their livelihood. Back then I believe Bridget Bardot & her crowd were already making waves over the hunt. A cause of convenience for a small segment of elitist tree-hugging Europeans, their outrage then was as absurd as it is now. Think if underwater cameras routinely captured images of tuna the world over inn their death throes as they are caught in the nets of Spanish trawlers. What then? A ban on fish? Bloody absurd!

    Seals are predators. Like any other species that kills to survive it is relentless in its pursuit of prey. Ask the millions of fish who are gnawed to death each year how “cute” seals are. Tell me, when the last time a European saw a cow gnaw something to death other than a piece of cud? Pom-pus TWITS!

    • corsullivan permalink*
      May 9, 2009 1:13 pm

      Yes, one of the most frustrating things about European anti-sealing attitudes is the extent to which they’re based on the emotive power of images, presented without any context whatsoever. It’s as if the continent that gave the world the Enlightenment has decided to turn its back on reason and just think with its delicate little viscera.

      I’m not sure how much this really has to do with either elitism or tree-hugging, though. Many environmentalists are perfectly rational, and not necessarily sentimental about the lives of individual animals (as opposed to conservation of species, a cause I’m happy to support). And there’s nobody more “elite” than an English fox-hunting aristocrat, but they’re clearly not too sentimental either.

  3. May 8, 2009 12:05 pm

    Forcing athletes to take on a political role would seem offensive to me. (Mind you, forcing them to take on roles as walking billboards, well, that’s something that’s already being done, so I guess the offence is alraedy given.)

    I think we’d be better off looking for alternative markets at this point. Europeans have the right to decide how they’ll run their economic affairs. I dislike the idea of using an unaccountable and unelected body to overrule an elected one, even if it is to our advantage.

    The other choice is to educate Europeans on this issue, but we’ve been trying that and it doesn’t seem to be working. Cuddly baby seal pictures are more telegenic.

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