EU parliament bans Canadian seal products

STRASBOURG (AFP) — The European Parliament voted on Tuesday to endorse an EU ban on products derived from seals in protest at hunting methods despite threats from Canada to complain to the World Trade Organization.

The move, backed by much of the European public and animal rights groups, was approved by 550 votes to 49 against at the parliament in Strasbourg. The ban will enter force for the next commercial seal hunt season in 2010.

The decision to ban products derived from seal hunting, especially pelts, comes on the eve of a visit to Prague by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to launch free trade talks with the European Union.

The Canadian government maintains that the 350-year-old hunt is crucial for some 6,000 North Atlantic fishermen who rely on it for up to 35 percent of their total annual income.

Ottawa authorized the slaughter of 338,000 seals this year, insisting the hunt does not threaten the species. But a slump in pelt prices has meant fewer hunters on ice floes off Canada's Atlantic coast.

Canada hopes that requiring training for sealers on how to humanely slaughter seals, legislating standards for seal products and taking measures to safeguard the species will silence critics of the hunt.

The EU is Canada's second-largest trading partner.

"After many years of campaigning by European citizens I welcome the regulation which bans seal products from entering or being traded in the European Union," EU Environment Stavros Dimas said in a statement.

"By upholding the highest standards the new legislation addresses EU citizens' concerns with regard to the cruel hunting methods of seals," he said.

The commission said the new measure, already endorsed by EU nations and the bloc's executive body, would eliminate disparate national rules and consolidate the fragmented European market in seal products.

But it underlined it would allow trade in seal products derived from hunts traditionally conducted by Inuit and other indigenous communities and which contribute to their subsistence.

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