Late last year, the World Trade Organization dealt a mortal blow to a renewed Canadian hunt of non-whitecoat seals. They upheld a European Union ban on the importation of all seal products, basing their decision on the ethical and moral principles held by EU citizens: People like you, who love animals.
The first seal our founder Brian Davies saw being skinned was alive, and the agony in its eyes as it looked at him was a defining moment in his life. He pledged there and then to end the baby seal hunt, creating and leading the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and then going on to found Network for Animals.
It would then take 18 years and public support, particularly in the UK, to achieve what many said was impossible. The big breakthrough came in 1983 when the EU, the main market for seal cull products, banned the importation of whitecoat pelts, effectively ending the hunt. The ban was propelled in no small part by a paper petition signed by three million Britons.
In 1987, following a successful campaign to get British supermarkets to boycott their fish products, Canada capitulated and banned the commercial hunt of whitecoats: During the period 1983 to 1996 some 2.25 million seals that would have been slaughtered were saved; a number more than twice the population of Birmingham.
In 1996, Canada, faced with the loss of its cod fishery, reactivated a hunt for older seals. It lasted 13 years until the EU banned the import of all seal products in 2009, and it is this ban that the WTO upheld despite Canadian political protest in late 2013.
The WTO decision is profoundly important as, given the right political climate, it could be used to ban the import of further animal products produced inhumanely – cruelly crowded poultry cages, for example. We did far more than we realized when we embraced the baby seals, and now it is our duty to build on those foundations.