Norway threatens action if EU bans seal products

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Norway has threatened to challenge the European Union over plans to ban imports of furs and other products from seals.

Sealers load up a sled with harp seal pelts on an ice floe in the Gulf of St. Lawrence near Iles-de-la-Madeleine, PQ, March 23, 2009. REUTERS/Paul Darrow

The executive European Commission last year proposed banning the import of pelts from seals that have endured excessive suffering while being killed.

“In our view, the proposal cannot be justified under the WTO (World Trade Organization),” Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere wrote in a letter to EU trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton, a copy of which was seen by Reuters on Monday.

“A ban on trade in seal products will set a dangerous precedent in the matter of sustainable harvesting of renewable resources,” Stoere wrote.

Canada has also threatened to challenge the EU’s proposed ban.

Canada, Greenland and Namibia account for around 60 percent of the 900,000 seals hunted each year. The rest are killed in Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Britain and the United States.

The proposed ban is being discussed by the EU’s 27 member states and the European Parliament before it becomes law. Norway, which is not an EU member state, said the drafts being discussed were unacceptable.

“The Norwegian government has decided to initiate consultations under the WTO Dispute Settlement Understanding, should the EU take a decision along the lines that now seems to be developing,” Stoere wrote.

The WTO’s dispute settlement understanding is intended to settle trade disputes when one country says another’s action or trade policies violate WTO agreements.

The 15 seal species now hunted are not endangered but European politicians demanded action after finding what they said was evidence that many are skinned while still conscious.

The animals are usually first shot or bludgeoned over the head with a spiked club known as a hakapik.

Russia banned the hunting of baby harp seals last month, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called it a “bloody industry.”

A European Food Safety Authority report last year highlighted various causes of unnecessary suffering, such as trapping seals underwater where they drown.

It recommended that seals first be shot or clubbed and then monitored to check they are dead before being bled and skinned, to ensure they never regain consciousness during the process.

Reporting by Pete Harrison; Editing by Farah Master