EU court upholds seal fur ban
By Benjamin Fox
The EU's three-year-old ban on seal fur will remain intact after the bloc's highest court threw out a legal challenge by the Canadian Inuit and the country's fur trade.
Unveiling its judgment on Thursday (25 April), the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice (ECJ) said the ban had been established to "harmonise the rules and thus prevent the disturbance of the internal market in seal products".
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It added that a handful of EU countries had already put in place national restrictions on seal fur resulting in "fragmentation" of the internal market.
The case had been brought by Inuit community group, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), and the Fur Institute of Canada, with both organisations claiming that their livelihood depends on the trade.
In a statement following the ruling, Terry Audla, president of the ITK, accused the EU of displaying a "colonial, holier-than-thou attitude", adding that "their self-serving interests have not resulted in a fair or just process for Inuit."
The seal fur ban became an unlikely issue during the 2009 European elections following a sustained lobbying effort by MEPs and animal welfare charities.
Thousands of seal pups are slaughtered in any given hunting season, often being shot and then clubbed to death. Seal skins and fur are used for making luxury clothing.
Since the ban, seal hunting has all-but collapsed. Just 40,000 seals were killed in Canada during the commercial seal hunt in 2011, a big reduction from the 354,000 in 2006.
For their part, animal rights charities welcomed Thursday's ruling.
Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of Humane Society International/Canada, said she was "thrilled that the European General Court has rejected this shameful attempt by the commercial sealing industry to overturn the EU ban on seal product trade."
The ECJ case is the latest in a string of attempts by the Canadian authorities to scrap the ban.
Next week, the Canadian government will take the case to the World Trade Organisation in Geneva. A statement issued by Canada's conservative government said that "the Canadian government will continue to send a strong message that we are serious about defending our legitimate commercial seal harvest."