World Trade Organization Rules for Seals, Says Animal Welfare Counts

By on May 22, 2014 with 0 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

The World Trade Organization today issued a final decision in its ruling to the inhumane global seal trade, and gave a precedent-setting boost to our domestic and international efforts to prevent animal abuse. The international body that sets the rules of the road on global trade matters has upheld the European Union’s right to prohibit trade in the products of commercial seal hunts for public moral reasons based on animal welfare. This is one of the most significant developments in the campaign to save seals, and a critically important validation of the United States’ and other countries’ right to crack down on the global trade in products of animal cruelty.


The WTO ruling confirms that it is time for the Canadian government to put an end to commercial seal slaughter.

The EU ban on the sale of commercial seal products, instituted in 2009, had been challenged at the WTO by Canada and Norway as violating international trade rules. After a WTO panel in 2013 largely upheld the EU’s right to restrict trade in products of animal cruelty for public moral reasons, finding fault merely with certain exceptions to the ban, Canada and Norway appealed the panel’s findings.  Today, the WTO Appellate Body – the final arbiter of international trade disputes – reaffirmed that the EU was justified in placing limitations on trade in seal products based on its citizens’ concerns over the animal welfare risks in seal hunting.

The WTO’S acceptance of the concept that a nation’s legislative decision that certain products are just too cruel to be sold within its borders bolsters animal protection legislation throughout the globe. It will also reassure any country considering a positive trade-related animal welfare measure that it has much less to fear from a WTO challenge than it did before. The ruling also means that hundreds of state and federal animal protection laws already in place can now be fully enforced and hopefully expanded and strengthened in the years to come.

Today’s WTO decision is a victory for the global animal protection movement, and specifically for the legal and political experts at Humane Society International and The HSUS who have worked tirelessly to push the WTO toward this acceptance of animal welfare as a legitimate moral rationale for restricting trade.  The HSI/HSUS team made a significant contribution to this victory by providing video evidence during the WTO hearings of the inherent cruelty of commercial sealing and by co-authoring two amicus briefs submitted for consideration by the WTO.

This ruling also confirms that it is time for the Canadian government to stop wasting taxpayer dollars to preserve this cruel slaughter. Canada should take action to put an end to commercial seal slaughter and compensate sealers through a fair sealing industry buyout. Such a plan has broad support amongst sealers and would cost Canadians far less than continuing to prop up the commercial seal hunt with government subsidies.

P.S. In other big news, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee has voted 18–12 in favor of maintaining the ban on horse slaughter inspections in the United States.  Senators Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., led the fight to protect America’s horses.  See our press release for the roll call vote on the issue.

Humane Society International, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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