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Inuit Lose Challenge to Europe’s Seal Fur Ban

(CN) - Canadian Inuit lack standing to challenge a 2010 European ban on seal products, the EU high court ruled Thursday.

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, a Canadian nonprofit representing over 50,000 Inuit, first challenged on Europe's legislative ban on seal fur and other products before the EU general court in 2011. The group argued the prohibition - which does not apply to Inuit or other indigenous communities - has decimated their economy by killing worldwide demand for seal products.

The lower court dismissed the action on the ground that legislative actions can only be challenged by persons affected by the legislation, and the Inuit are not. According to that ruling, only regulatory acts may be challenged generally.

Other indigenous groups, furriers and trade groups from Canada, Denmark, Greenland and Norway joined Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami in an appeal to the Court of Justice of the European Union.

But the Luxembourg-based high court upheld the general court's dismissal, adding that Europe's constitution does not grant "unconditional entitlement to bring an action to annul EU legislative acts." Furthermore, challenges to EU legislative acts begin in the national courts, the court said.

The EU's ban on seal fur and products has been highly effective in reducing the number of seals killed commercially, from 354,000 in 2006 to 40,000 in 2011. The price of a seal pelt dropped from $118 to just $12 in the same time frame.

EU law permits indigenous communities to produce and sell seal products derived from their own hunts. The Inuit have traditionally used seal products to survive economically, but claim that price drops and lack of demand have made that nearly impossible.

Meanwhile, the court's decision pleased animal rights activists in Canada.

"We applaud the court for rejecting this senseless challenge and upholding the right of the EU to prohibit commercial trade in seal products," said Rebecca Aldworth, executive director Humane Society International/Canada. "The EU's decision was the result of a complex, democratic process that involved substantial consultations with the commercial sealing industry, Canadian government and other stakeholders. The applicants simply do not have the legal standing to challenge this decision."

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