A lifeline for seals


World Animal Protection has long protested the mass clubbing of seals for fur and other products as inhumane, so last week’s World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling that the European Union (EU) can ban the import and sale of seal products for “moral” reasons is a real victory for animal protection.

The EU ban on the sale of seal products has been in force since 2010, but Canada and Norway had challenged the ban on the grounds that it was inconsistent, granting exceptions that favour countries such as Greenland that are limited exporters of seal products. 

A WTO panel decision found that the exceptions do flout international free trade rules. But it concluded that if the EU applies the exceptions consistently, then a ban designed to address “public moral concerns” is permitted. 

This decision sets an important precedent for the many countries who wish to close their borders to trade which perpetuates animal cruelty. 

WORLD ANIMAL PROTECTION Oceans Campaign Leader, Claire Bass says: 

“This landmark victory offers a lifeline to the hundreds of thousands of seals threatened with the guns and clubs of commercial hunts. So far, 34 countries have banned the trade in seal products and we expect this to continue rising in light of the WTO ruling. With the EU accounting for around one quarter of the world trade, the upholding of the ban is a major milestone in international efforts to protect seals.”

Back the ban and ban the trade

We are hoping that seals in another part of the world will also be given a lifeline. WORLD ANIMAL PROTECTION and a global alliance of scientists and NGOs from all over the world have this week written to leaders of the South African government calling for assurance that they will maintain the country’s moratorium on killing Cape fur seals, and urging them to become the first African nation to ban the trade in seal products. 

Statistics that we’ve just released show that calls by a South African MP to end South Africa’s two-decade sealing ban are at odds with public opinion and could backfire on the country’s tourism. 

Over three-quarters of South Africans (76%) polled said that they oppose the seal hunt which takes place in neighbouring Namibia, and in South Africa’s top three international tourism markets (UK, Germany and USA) on average three quarters of respondents said they oppose the Namibian hunt. Critically, the poll also revealed that 46% of Britons, 54% of Germans and 53% of Americans would avoid going on holiday to Namibia because of the seal hunt. 

WORLD ANIMAL PROTECTION’s Claire Bass says “The public has demonstrated an extremely low tolerance for the obvious and unnecessary cruelty inflicted in commercial seal hunts. Our poll results clearly show that people will actively avoid visiting countries with hunts. Conversely, our economic research shows that live seals have a significant and growing value to countries in terms of ecotourism dollars – there is a good business case to say that seals should be seen and not hurt.” 

The decision last week by the WTO set a new precedent affirming that strong public moral opposition to the sale of seal products is a legitimate reason to restrict or ban trade. With public opinion in South Africa clearly against sealing, South Africa could now confidently follow the thirty-three countries that have banned imports of seal products, cutting its ties with the world’s last cruel and bloody seal hunts. 

Our joint letter has been sent to the President and Deputy President of South Africa, the Minister for Trade and Industry, the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs.

Making the seas a safer home for marine animals

Learn more about World Animal Protection’s other marine work here. 

Next year, World Animal Protection will be tackling head on another huge global marine welfare problem – the entanglement of marine animals in discarded fishing gear. 

Watch out for more information on our'Untangled' campaign to make the seas a safer home for animals. In the meantime, please read our report 'Untangled – Marine debris: A global picture of the impact on animal welfare and of animal focussed solutions', which pulls together existing literature on the impact of marine debris on animal welfare. 

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