EU executive moves to limit cruelty of seal hunts
By Pete Harrison
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission adopted proposals on Wednesday to ban the import of pelts from seals that have endured excessive suffering while being killed, risking possible trade conflicts with hunting nations.
While stopping short of calling for a total ban, the EU's executive body said products from the 900,000 seals hunted each year should be accepted in the EU only with guarantees that the seal has been killed as humanely as possible.
None of the 15 seal species that are currently hunted is endangered, but European environmentalists and politicians have demanded action after finding evidence that seals are often skinned while still conscious.
Typically, they are first shot or bludgeoned over the head with a spiked club known as a hakapik.
"European citizens find these practices repugnant," Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas told reporters. "Seal products coming from countries which practice hunting methods that involve unnecessary pain and suffering must not be allowed to enter the EU."
Last year, Belgium and the Netherlands imposed their own bans on imports such as seal furs and vitamin products, prompting a trade complaint from Canada on the grounds that their accusations of cruelty were unfounded.
Dimas said the ban would not cover subsistence hunting by Inuits or hunts that had been proved humane.
"It is very difficult to define what is humane," he said. "Personally, I don't like killing of any kind, but we will follow what science is telling us does not cause unnecessary pain and suffering to animals."
A European Food Safety Authority report last year highlighted various causes of unnecessary suffering, such as trapping seals underwater where they die by drowning.
It recommended that seals first be shot or clubbed and then monitored to check they are dead before being bled and skinned, to ensure they never regain consciousness during the process.
The animal welfare group IFAW welcomed the move, but a spokesman said that anything short of a full ban would be difficult to monitor or enforce.
Canada, Greenland and Namibia account for about 60 percent of the 900,000 seals hunted each year, the rest being killed in Iceland, Norway, Russia, the United States, Sweden, Finland and Britain.
Dimas said about a third of the trade in seal products made its way through the 27-state EU en route to their final markets, making EU rules a powerful tool in controlling the trade.
The proposal is likely to get strong support from EU lawmakers, who have already called for a ban, he added. It will also need the approval of member states before it can become law.
(Reporting by Pete Harrison; Editing by Catherine Evans)