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Animal Attraction: World Trade Organization Upholds EU Seal Product Trade Ban

Animal Attraction:  World Trade Organization Upholds EU Seal Product Trade Ban

Credit: © IFAW/S. Cook

by Stacy Fox

Posted on November 26, 2013 at 9:08 AM

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) released yesterday its first panel ruling on animal welfare in the trade dispute between  Canada and Norway challenging the European Union regulation forbidding the placing on the market of seal products derived from commercial hunts. Concluding  that  animal welfare is a globally recognised issue and a valid public moral concern,  the panel considered that the EU was right in adopting trade restricting measures to address these concerns. The Seal Regulation did not pass the WTO test completely and some of the exception to the trade ban, allowing products from indigenous hunts and marine management culls will need to be adapted.

“The report from WTO panel is a victory for seals, animal welfare and Europeans,“ said Sonja Van Tichelen, IFAW EU Regional Director. “EU leaders can be proud that they have simultaneously protected seals, represented the needs of their citizens and respected EU obligations under the WTO – that is not a simple task.”

The WTO, the intergovernmental organisation of 194 countries is the free trade body governs and enforces free trade rules has never before made statements or rulings on animal welfare. A common but untested belief of many regulators was that countries were not allowed to impose trade restrictions on the basis of how a product is produced. This view is now challenged with potentially great opportunities for the welfare of animals.

Although the EU has other animal welfare based trade restrictions in place such as a marketing ban for cosmetics tested on animals or a ban on cat and dog fur, the majority of animal welfare laws in the EU impose standards on EU products but allow the import of products from countries with no animal welfare legislation. While EU has banned battery cages for egg production, veal crates and sow stalls, consumers may still find products from these systems on the shelves as legislators have been hesitant and worried for WTO disputes on animal welfare.

The panel outcome is open to appeal from the parties. If there is no appeal by end of January the ruling becomes part of the WTO jurisprudence. The EU will still need to amend its laws to bring it in line with the panel report.

IFAW has compiled responses to common myths about the seal hunt and coverage from the last 12 months of the Canadian challenge to the EU Seal Import Ban at the WTO.  Together, they provide a timely and succinct overview of the cruelty inherent in the Canadian commercial seal hunt, the importance of the EU ban on products from that hunt, and the significance of this WTO ruling. Click here to watch the video and learn more (WARNING some videos contain graphic material). 

International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)

© IFAW/S. Cook