A new agreement for China to import seal meat from Canada has come under fire as betraying a “racist and cultural imperialistic attitude”. Supporters, however, hope that it might help sustain Inuit communities whose income has been hurt by an EU ban on seal products. From Jonathan Watts in The Guardian:
To secure an alternative market, the Canadian government has been lobbying China, which has a rapidly growing economy and a huge population with an increasing appetite for meat and a history of eating wildlife with few qualms ….
“Seal products have been rejected by the majority of Canadians and people in Europe and North America. It is insulting for Canada to market these products in China,” said professor Lu Di, director of China Small Animal Protection Association. “The perception of Canada’s sealing industry that the Chinese eat everything and the Chinese people do not care about animal suffering is indicative of the racist and cultural imperialistic attitude towards non-western societies still held by some Canadians.”
The International Fund for Animal Welfare, though dismissive of the agreement’s real significance, shared this objection:
IFAW asserts that while this is a political agreement between China and Canada, Chinese consumers will be the ones to decide the fate of seal products. Once Chinese consumers are made aware of the realities of Canada’s commercial seal hunt, IFAW believes that they will reject the products, thereby making the deal irrelevant.
“The Canadian Government can try and try again to dump unwanted seal products on other countries, but as the EU ban has shown, they may not succeed,” said Sheryl Fink, Director of IFAW’s Seal Program, “Chinese consumers are more ethical and more aware of the truth about the seal hunt than the Canadian Government is giving them credit for.” Fink added.
“This is a slap on the face for China, Chinese culture and Chinese people,” Grace Ge Gabriel, IFAW’s Asia Regional Director, angrily objected, “China is not a dumping ground for Canadian seal products and Chinese consumers should not shoulder the ethical responsibility of paying for the cruel slaughter of seals in Canada.”
However, advocates of the seal trade argued that the perception of cruelty was based on abandoned hunting methods, and that the deal could reinvigorate traditional ways of life. From The Guardian:
The seal hunting business is small – about $10m (£6.3m) each year – but politically sensitive, because many of the remaining 6,000 sealers are from Inuit communities, who have traditionally hunted the mammal for a living. Their incomes have collapsed in recent years due to the melting of Arctic ice and diminishing demand. The number of seals harvested has fallen by more than 75% in the last five years, to about 70,000. The price of pelts has also dropped.
“I’m pleased that the Chinese government has seen through the myths and distortions that have been widely disseminated by animal rights extremists in other parts of the world, such as Europe,” said Mary Simon, president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami organization. “We want to create a stable and secure future for our seal hunters.”
Though Europe is blamed here for undermining Inuit tradition, the EU ban did include an exemption for “hunts traditionally conducted by Inuit and other indigenous communities and which contribute to their subsistence.”
Unfortunately, the seals are not sufficiently rare to be loaned to foreign zoos for $250,000 per year.