Morality and killing seals

Canada’s east-coast seal hunting industry both won and lost Monday, in a ruling by the World Trade Organization.

The WTO ruled mostly in favour of Europe in its dispute with Canada, upholding Europe’s ban on imported products of Canada’s east coast seal hunt on the basis of “EU public moral concerns on seal welfare,” while agreeing with the technical details of Canada’s trade complaint.

The controversial annual hunt takes place on the ice off Newfoundland, where hunters kill newborn seals, mostly for their fur. Unlike animal products produced behind the walls of privately-owned fur and agriculture businesses, the full gory details of the hunt are carried out in public, or at least as “public” as global media outlets can make the practice, given the difficulties of accessing the remote location and extreme conditions.

The hunt has long been a cause célèbre amongst animal-rights organizations, which protest it as cruel and barbaric, and promote their cause with images of big-eyed baby seal pups. Hunters from the eastern province – backed up by aboriginal seal hunters elsewhere – argue the hunt is no more cruel than other uses of animals; is a staple part of Newfoundland’s economy, and is part of Canadian traditions.

The WTO ruling noted that Europe makes exceptions to its ban “if certain conditions are met, including for seal products derived from hunts conducted by Inuit or indigenous communities  … and hunts conducted for marine resource management purposes.”

The Canadian government said in a statement it would appeal the WTO ruling, which was welcomed by the European Union.

An excerpt of the WTO ruling:

The panel determined that the EU Seal Regime (violates the trade agreement) because: (1) these exceptions accord imported seal products treatment less favourable than that accorded to like domestic and other foreign products; and (2) such less favourable treatment does not stem exclusively from legitimate regulatory distinctions. The panel found however that the EU Seal Regime does not violate (the trade agreement) because it fulfils the objective of addressing EU public moral concerns on seal welfare to a certain extent …

Further reading:
A report on the WTO ruling and reaction by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation