Public Morals and Freedom of Choice: A Double Win for Common Sense

30/05/2014 15:22 BST | Updated 29/07/2014 10:59 BST

Several court rulings in the last few weeks suggest those in power might have overstepped the mark when it comes to legislation on fur and the tricky issue of public morality. You can see the societal backdrop to the rulings I talk about below echoed in the recent European elections. It seems voters and national governments have lost faith in the endless new laws flowing from Brussels. They appear jaded with the endless tail-chasing, pointless machinations and simply want their European civil servants to do less but deliver real value for the people they exist to serve.

In my last Huffington Post blog, I wrote rather blightingly of the World Trade Organisation (WTO)'s support of the EU ban on seal products - a ban based on the woolly and undefined issue of 'public moral concerns' rather than on any hard facts or evidence.

The good news is that the WTO's Appellate Body has now found that the EU ban on seal products is inconsistent with its international obligations, and was designed and applied in an arbitrary or unjustifiably discriminatory manner between countries where the same conditions prevail.

In essence, the WTO Appellant Body was highly critical of both the WTO Dispute Settlement Panel and the EU - and said the EU seal ban was more restrictive than it needed to be.

As I noted before, international trade bans based on 'public morals' set an unbelievably dangerous precedent. And I'm not alone in thinking that way: a recent survey commissioned by the Trade Fairness Coalition has highlighted how Europeans really feel about 'public morality' trade bans. It found that half (50 per cent) opposed trade bans based on moral grounds and only a third were in favour. In addition, a majority (57 per cent) saw that such bans could lead to trade restriction for other sectors of the economy.

And it gets better. A Dutch court in The Hague has also overturned the ban that would have put an end to mink farming in The Netherlands in 2024. The ban was passed by the Dutch Senate in December 2012, but the court declared the fur ban unconstitutional under the European Human Rights Convention.

The ban was based on the argument that fur is "an unnecessary luxury product", but didn't offer the Dutch fur farmers any compensation for taking away their livelihood. This was, unsurprisingly, deemed contrary to the European Human Rights Convention.

So all things considered, this has been a pretty momentous week for those, like myself, who favour the right to choose. Of course fur farming is a highly emotional and divisive issue, and no doubt will remain that way, but any decisions affecting the fur trade - and thus the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people worldwide - should be based on rigorous scientific evidence and facts rather than a group of politicians in a room somewhere who think of themselves as the final arbiters of public morality.

The Dutch mink farming ruling also highlights just how important the fur trade is to the entire national economies of countries like Denmark and Greece; it's not a niche industry but a $40bn global powerhouse. Moreover, its success in recent years has been because people have been able to choose for themselves whether or not they want to wear fur.

If we take emotion out of the equation, the facts speak for themselves: the fur trade has some of the most stringent animal welfare rules in the world, utilises renewable resources, employs a million people globally and is based on the right of consumers to make up their own minds. It's a good thing that this week's announcements have gone a long way towards supporting it.