EU Ban on Seal Trade Survives Inuit Challenge

     (CN) - Canadian Inuit and manufacturers of seal products cannot challenge an EU law that aims to reduce the hunting of that animal, the General Court ruled Thursday.
     Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, an industry association that represents the interests of Canadian Inuits, had brought the challenge alongside various manufacturers and traders of seal products.
     They claimed that the law, adopted by the European Commission in 2010, falls outside the legislative purview because its principal objective is to protect animal welfare.
     In tossing that argument, the Luxembourg-based General Court pointed out that the law actually aimed to harmonize various national laws governing the seal trade in Europe.
     "In the present case it is clear from the basic regulation that its principal objective is not to safeguard the welfare of animals but to improve the functioning of the internal market," the decision states.
     "To begin with, it must be pointed out, in that regard, that, at the time when the basic regulation was adopted, there were differences between the laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the member states as regards the products concerned."
     By taking action when it did, the commission aimed to "prevent the disturbance of the internal market in the products concerned," according to the ruling.
     The court also noted that "the protection of animal welfare is a legitimate objective in the public interest."
     "It is against that background that ... the union legislature concluded that, to eliminate the present fragmentation of the internal market, it was necessary to provide for harmonised rules while taking into account animal welfare considerations," the judges added.
     EU lawmakers ultimately found that the most effective course of action was "a general guarantee that no seal product would be marketed on the union market, inter alia by banning the import of such products from third countries," the ruling states.
     "However, the union legislature provided for an exception to that ban in the case of seal hunting by Inuit communities and other indigenous communities for the purposes of subsistence," the judges added. "Recital 14 in the preamble to the basic regulation states that '[t]he fundamental economic and social interests of Inuit communities engaged in the hunting of seals as a means to ensure their subsistence should not be adversely affected.'"
     The regulation is thus justified, the court found.