The European Union's executive commission rejected appeals Friday for an EU-wide ban on the import of seal fur products to force the closure of Canada's annual seal hunt.
The EU head office in Brussels said a 1983 EU lawthat imposes limited bans on the import of fur taken from young seal pups "provides adequate response" to concerns presented by the European Parliament.
The EU assembly voted last year, demanding the European Commission introduce a ban on seal productsto protest what EU lawmakers called cruel and inhumane hunting tactics used to kill seal pups for their skins, notably in Canada.
In an official response sent to the legislators, the commission said reports it had seen on inhumane hunting methods were "partly contradictory."
However, it said the EU would take "all necessary steps to ascertain the use of humane hunting standards for seals, and if deemed appropriate, propose… to take action," in wake of "the high level of public concerns" over the issue.
Also seeking cat, dog fur ban
The commission said the population of seals in Canada's Arctic and Atlantic regions "has grown significantly" in the last three decades, from just under two million to around six million harp seals alone, adding the seals were not listed as endangered species.
Legislators said, however, that the inaction by the EU was hypocritical as it seeks to impose a separate ban on all imports of dog and cat fur into the 27-nation bloc.
"Commercial seal hunting is a brutal and cruel practice, targeting seal pups only a few weeks old," said Carl Schlyter, a Swedish Green party member of the EU parliament, who visited the annual seal hunt off Canada's eastern coast last year.
He said Europe remains the largest market for seal fur, "so introducing an EU ban on seal products would be a crucial step toward ending this barbaric cull."
However, Canada says the biggest market for its seal products remains Norway, which is not an EU member.
Schlyter said current rules were insufficient in preventing the import of fur from seal pups.
Current EU rules impose a ban on seal products derived from newborn harp seals less than 12 days old and young hooded seals less than one year old.
Environmental and animal rights groups argue the rules allow hunters to go after the pups once they reach an age just over the ban limit.
Move angers Canada
The European Parliament's appeal and moves by several EU nations like Belgium to introduce national bans caused widespread anger in Canada. Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn told Belgian politicians last year to think about Canadian soldiers who died in Europe during the first World War before slamming the door on Canadian seal products.
Belgian legislators however, voted unanimously on Thursday to back a national ban on the import of all seal products into the country, becoming the first EU country to do so. Germany, Italy and the Netherlands are also working on similar bans.
Canadian officials have defended the hunt saying it is vital to the survival of aboriginal peoples in the Arctic and provided an economic lifeline for a region desperate for jobs and growth.
The seal hunt also employs around 6,000 Atlantic Canadians per year.