THE BLOG
27/05/2014 09:18 BST | Updated 26/07/2014 06:59 BST

World Trade Organisation's Decision Gets Seal of Approval From Peta (and Seals)

Some weeks make you especially proud to be an animal rights advocate. Last week was one of them.

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has upheld a ruling that allows the European Union to ban seal fur imports on moral grounds.

Canada fought desperately to have the ban repealed, but the WTO affirmed that nations have the right to reject seal products which they find morally reprehensible.

And who wouldn't be disturbed by Canada's commercial seal slaughter? Seals can be killed as soon as they lose their white fur at just a few weeks old. Most of the seals shot or bludgeoned to death are under 3 months of age. Sealers routinely hook seals in the eye, cheek or mouth to avoid damaging their fur and then drag them across the ice, in some cases while they are still alive. As Dr Andy Butterworth, senior lecturer in animal sciences at the University of Bristol's School of Veterinary Sciences and an official observer of the seal hunt, put it, "If what I have witnessed being done to a young seal was done to a horse or a dog, there is little doubt that it would be labelled as cruel".

All this is done for a product that no one needs - or even wants. Aside from the EU, many other countries, including Mexico, Taiwan, the US and even Russia - which had been importing 95 per cent of Canada's seal pelts - have banned seal fur imports. Still, Canada is fighting tooth and nail to defend the slaughter. In its appeal to the WTO, Canada claimed that the ban unfairly restricted the country's trade. But the WTO disagreed, citing a 70-year-old agreement that allows nations to restrict trade if it is "necessary to protect public morals".

This was just the latest of Canada's attempts to keep the seal fur flying. In its initial effort to stymie the EU ban, the country appealed to the WTO on the grounds that the ban interfered with Inuit tradition. But the argument was a straw man at best since the small Inuit hunt (which accounts for only 3 per cent of the seals killed in Canada) was clearly and expressly excluded from the ban.

The reason that the hunt continues is purely political. Parties want control of Newfoundland's parliamentary swing seats and so aim to prove that they support local business, even despite the fact that polls have consistently shown that the majority of Canadians oppose the seal slaughter.

But Canada may have played all the cards in its hand. This decision by the WTO is final and binding. In the wise words of Victor Hugo, "An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come. Well, the time has certainly come for the Canadian government to accept what the people already know: the seal slaughter is finished. Instead of spending millions of dollars a year trying to prop it up and tarnishing the whole country's reputation internationally, the government should invest in a buyout programme for the sealers that they - and seals - can live with.