Yesterday the EU General Court handed down its ruling in a legal case where Canadian Inuits and the Fur Institute of Canada tried to annul the 2009 EU ban on seal products. The court rejected the claim saying that the EU law already protects the interests of Inuit communities by authorising the sale of seal products that “result from hunts traditionally conducted by such indigenous communities for the purpose of their existence” – the so-called Inuit exemption.
Very generous of the EU, except that the Inuit exemption is not worth the paper it is written on. When I worked at the fur auction house Kopenhagen Fur one thing became certain after the EU ban took effect: Entering the auction room when seal skins were on offer was a lonesome affair. There would be five auctioneers and two, maybe three customers in an auction room that counted 500-600 very noisy buyers minutes before, when other furs were on offer. Prices dropped from 90 euros to 9 euros in a matter of months. In other words, the EU seal ban took the bottom out of the world market for seal products and without a market the Inuit exemption is worthless.
I can’t help but think that the EU ban on seal products is somewhat arrogant. About 2,000 years B.C., the Arctic areas were inhabited by humans after they had colonized the rest of the Americas. For obvious reasons the Artic was among the world’s last areas of human settlement (Micronesia was last), and without the Inuits being able to hunt seals, the colonization of the Arctic would simply not have happened. Seal meat is highly nutritious and in addition the skins were used to keep folks up there warm. The consumption of seals in the Arctic is in any way sustainable. In fact, the Inuits are very modern without even knowing it, as this lady puts it. This fantastic piece from Youtube takes on the role of the Inuit:
To add insult to the injury there are a number of other circumstances which makes the EU ban on seal products rather shameful. Here are some facts:
* The Northwest Atlantic harp seal population is abundant and well conserved, numbering around 8 million. Since the 1970s, the population has multiplied by five. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the harp seals as a species of ‘Least Concern’ on its Red List of threatened species. The same goes for the grey seals which have increased 70-fold since the 1960s.
* On the ‘Vulnerable’ Red List of threatened species however, we find something like the Atlantic Cod. For the same reason there is a quota for fishing Atlantic cod in Canada of currently 22,973 tonnes. Not taking note of any quotas, the harp seals themselves consume an estimated 500,000 tonnes of Atlantic cod a year. The many animal rights groups who lobbied for the seal ban say there is no evidence of this, and go on with clichés about how nature will regulate itself. Oddly though, the seals are there and the fish are not.
* Stepping a bit away from threatened animal species, the seal populations are also increasingly becoming a threat to the livelihood of fishing communities all over the world. Here is a recent story from Denmark, but animal rights groups do not even blush when lambasting sealers in Namibia, by far one of the world’s poorest countries.
Yesterday animal rights group PETA tweeted about the baby seals needing help. PETA are, of course, perfectly aware that seals have not been hunted before they reach maturity since 1987 (a legal protection, btw, not offered to other young animals like veal, lamb, pig, and chicken). But the deceptive campaigning method illustrates quite well what sealers and inuits are up against. Emotional images, deceptive messages and a more or less total lack of scientific arguments. Sadly, the combination has proved politically efficient. The EU ban on seal products was basically pushed through by claiming that seal hunt is a “cruel” practice over and over again (even though the killing methods used in the commercial seal hunt are approved by EU’s own institution EFSA, the European Food Safety Authority).
If EU banned all industries, which for moral reasons are considered “cruel” by the same organisations that lobbied through the ban on seal products, Europe would die from starvation. Moral is fantastic when you can afford it. The Inuits cannot afford it, but then again – it is not their moral.