European Union court upholds ban on import of seal products

A European Union court has upheld the EU’s three-year-old ban on seal products, dealing another blow to Canada’s embattled sealing industry.

The General Court of the European Union issued a statement Thursday saying it has rejected a challenge from a group that included the Canadian Fur Institute and the Inuit.

The Luxembourg-based court said the existing ban is valid because it fairly harmonizes the EU market while protecting the economic and social interests of Inuit communities.

Even though the Inuit have an exemption for selling their seal products in Europe, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami wanted the ban struck down because the group believes its markets will dry up if a wider ban remains in place.

The ban has hurt Canada’s centuries-old commercial sealing industry, which landed only 38,000 harp seals in 2011, less than 10 per cent of the total allowable catch.

But the ban didn’t kill the hunt.

More than 70,000 seals were slaughtered in 2012 and another 76,000 have been killed so far this season thanks to $5 million in industry loans from the Newfoundland and Labrador government.

In Luxembourg, the EU court said it rejected the complainants’ argument that the main objective of the ban is the protection of animal welfare, something that falls outside EU jurisdiction.

The ruling says the ban is actually intended to improve the conditions of the EU market by making harmonized rules for seal products.

“The regulation was thus adopted on a correct legal basis by the EU legislature under the ordinary legislative procedure,” the statement says.

The ruling goes on to say that some of the EU’s 27 member states, “in response to … pressure from citizens concerned about animal welfare,” had already banned seal products, and others were in the process of doing so.

“The EU legislature took the view that, in the absence of action at EU level, obstacles to trade would arise,” the statement said.

The court concluded that the EU ban effectively reduced fragmentation of the market.

The Inuit and representatives of the sealing industry have 60 days to file an appeal.