- Canada - environment
The European Commission proposed on Wednesday to ban products made from seals killed in inhumane ways in a measure fuelling tensions with major seal skin exporter Canada.
Under the proposal, seal products would be banned from the EU market unless they were certified to be the result of "hunting techniques consistent with high animal-welfare standards" and "that the animals did not suffer unnecessarily.
The ban targets mainly Canada, where hunters were allowed this spring to slaughter 275,000 seals on the country's Atlantic coast, nearly a third of the young seals killed each year.
"The images of seal hunting that circulate around the globe every year are a reminder of the often times gruesome practices used to kill seals," Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas told journalists.
"European citizens find these practices repugnant and in contradiction to our standards of animal welfare," he added.
Dimas said that the commission was proposing a ban, which must be approved by EU governments and the European Parliament, after receiving a flood of letters urging action not only from Europe but across the world.
The proposals were welcomed by animal protection groups.
"This announcement is a historic step forward in the campaign to end cruel commercial seal hunts," said Mark Glover, head of the British arm of the Humane Society.
However, French actress-turned-animal-activist Brigitte Bardot, who has led a campaign against the killing of seals, regretted that "slaughters will continue as long as they are done in a humane way."
Dimas acknowledged that it was difficult to say exactly what a humane way of killing seals was.
Traditional hunting by Inuits living in the Arctic regions will not be covered by the ban.
Seals are hunted mainly for their pelts but also for meat and fat, which is used in beauty products.
According to the commission, Canada, Greenland, and Namibia account for about 60 percent of the 900,000 seals hunted each year although Canada is the biggest source.
Seals are also hunted in Iceland, Norway, Russia, and the United States as well as in EU members Britain, Finland and Sweden.
The prospect of a ban has triggered tensions with Canada, with Prime Minster Stephen Harper saying earlier this month that Ottawa "will not stand by and accept measures that fly in the face of accepted international practices."
Each year, anti-sealing activists clash with sealers and Canadian fisheries officials on Canada's Atlantic coast, denouncing the hunt as cruel.