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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Europe Votes to Save Seals

An historic vote this morning in the European Parliament will have ripple effects for animals on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. All 27 member nations of the European Union will soon ban the import and sale of seal fur, drying up the market for Canada’s annual hunt of baby seals—the largest commercial slaughter of marine mammals in the world.

Seal pup in Atlantic Canada
© Nigel Barker

Just weeks ago, the world’s most beautiful nursery on the ice floes of Canada’s Atlantic coast was stained red and turned into a killing field. Tens of thousands of seal pups—some just 12 days old—were clubbed and skinned for their fur pelts, before they could even take their first swim. The Humane Society of the United States and its global affiliate, Humane Society International, have been working worldwide to end this massive global form of cruelty, and have been leading the fight from Ottawa to Brussels to Strasbourg.

Russia banned its own seal hunt this year, with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin calling it “such a bloody hunt” and saying “it is clear that it should have been banned a long time ago.” Canada has increasingly become isolated in the world community for allowing this horrible spectacle to continue.

Humane advocates often bemoan the fact that the U.S. lags behind Europe when it comes to animal protection laws. The European Union began phasing out steel-jawed leghold traps, veal crates for calves, gestation crates for pigs, and battery cages for hens, all before those policy reforms began to take root here. But today, the European Parliament finally achieved something that the U.S. did 37 years ago.

The U.S. Congress passed and President Richard Nixon signed the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972, barring any trade in the parts of whales, dolphins, seals, and other marine mammals. Seal fur has been banned in the U.S. for more than three decades, although it has remained popular in Europe and is even used by top fashion designers in Copenhagen and Milan.

Now, with Europe joining the U.S., there will be little market left for Canadian fishermen to peddle their seal pelts. As last year’s seal hunt brought in only $7 million in landed value and less than $11 million in global exports, and the European share is estimated at $6.6 million, the implications for the future of the seal hunt are enormous. Indeed, just the promise of an EU ban was enough to drive the prices for seal fur down to $15 per skin this year—a decline of 86 percent since 2006.

The U.S. did its part decades ago, but can still do more to make sure the seal hunt is relegated to Canada’s history books. Senators Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) have introduced a resolution, S. Res. 84, urging the Canadian government to end its commercial seal hunt. It’s similar to a measure passed by the House of Representatives in the 110th Congress, led by the late Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), former Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.), and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.).

Ask your two U.S. senators to support this important resolution, and join the world community in speaking out against this cruelty. The writing is on the wall, and this is the year to make history for seals.

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