In my forthcoming book, The Humane Economy, I explore the many ways that businesses and governments can do better for themselves and for the rest of us if they embrace animal welfare as a core concern. What has become apparent in recent decades is that industries that compromise animal welfare can cost society many times the revenues they generate, often in the form of externalities that taxpayers, property owners, and others must contend with.
In past centuries, commercial whaling was a mainstay of some coastal communities. But as society overwhelmingly rejected the killing of whales as morally repugnant, and as new forms of energy were developed to make whale oil obsolete, the industry withered and governments stepped in to forbid the practice. A humane alternative far more in line with public values rapidly emerged: whale watching. But whale watching wasn’t just a more humane way for society to interact with whales; it was ultimately far more lucrative for the communities involved.
In the case of commercial sealing, public opinion is clearly in favor of stopping the slaughter. But the Canadian government has yet to accept that the seal hunt is a clear economic loser. It is upside-down in terms of its economic benefits. Canada’s new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, is coming soon to the United States, and we hope he takes a look at the economic issues surrounding it.
Files obtained by Humane Society International through Canada’s Access to Information laws reveal that the Canadian government is spending $2.5 million each year just to monitor the commercial seal hunt, which had an export value of only $500,000 in 2014. And that doesn’t take into account the many millions more in subsidies and financing that the Canadian and provincial governments sink into product purchasing, development, processing, and marketing every year.
The Canadian government must be painfully aware that the economics of the Atlantic seal hunt make no sense. So why is it continuing to subsidize an activity far more suited to the 18th century than a modern society? Because it is politically expedient for them to do so as long as a few powerful fisheries associations continue to endorse the killing. And though most Canadians oppose the clubbing and shooting of baby seals for their fur, in an internal memo from 2014, the government just writes that off as people being “stupid” and needing more “education.”
The tragedy is that in continuing to disrespect the views of its citizens by supporting and financing a cruel and outdated slaughter, the Canadian government is not just throwing good money after bad, it is denying coastal communities a far better future and putting them in an anti-competitive position as the rest of the world develops robust ecotourism projects.
Canada is a first-world nation and this is the 21st century. Marine ecotourism is just one of the many sustainable industries that could easily be developed in the coastal communities currently involved in commercial sealing. But a political mind shift is required to secure the investment required from the Canadian government. Until that happens, The HSUS and HSI will continue to expose the plight of seals and work to stop the trade in the products of this bloody slaughter. Our case starts with our moral claims, but it is clinched with our economic arguments.