Seal-meat loin on MPs' lunch menu

MPs and senators from across the political spectrum enjoyed a special lunch Wednesday featuring Canada's best-known furry sea mammal — the seal.
Platters of seal meat appetizers are laid out for hungry MPs and senators Wednesday. ((Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press))
Forget the Winter Olympics — nothing unites Canada's parliamentarians like some bacon-wrapped seal loin.

MPs and senators from across the political spectrum turned out for a special lunch Wednesday, drawn together by a menu featuring Canada's best-known furry sea mammal.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff bellied into the throng to try some seal paté and pronounced it "delicious, actually …a little gamy, like caribou or something."

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff gives the thumbs up as he samples a seal meat munchie. ((Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press))

"Did you ever think we'd have such a crowd?" Liberal Senator Celine Hervieux-Payette, who organized Wednesday's lunch, asked Conservative Fisheries Minister Gail Shea in a packed side room off the Parliamentary restaurant.

The seal lunch did indeed attract international attention, as intended.

It is the first time seal has been served in the 100-year-old Parliament Hill institution. And all the double-smoked bacon wrapping, port reductions and organic vegetable medleys couldn't mask the meal's true intention: telling animal rights groups and the European Union to get stuffed.

The EU has banned processed seal imports, including pelts, meat, organs and seal oil.

Animal rights activists "achieve their goals by spreading false information about this industry," Shea told the 18 invited lunch guests, who were swamped by news media.

The British Broadcasting Corp., Radio Netherlands, and newspapers from England, France, and the U.S. all sent reporters to cover the lunch on the Hill.

Governor-General starts trend

Eating seal meat has become politically fashionable in Canada since Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean sampled a slice of raw seal heart during an Inuit community feast last May in Rankin Inlet. The act set off a storm of protest in Europe but garnered largely positive reviews across Canada, guaranteeing it would be repeated in some form or other.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper had his cabinet treated to seal during a meeting in Iqaluit in August, although no independent news media was permitted to record the event.

MPs from all four parties in the House of Commons sat down to the formal lunch Wednesday, while many more crowded into the room for a piece of the media action.

"This is likely a very strange comment," Shea told the luncheon guests, "but I want to thank my critics for their support."

Some members of the International Fund for Animal Welfare were at Parliament Hill protesting the lunch. Sheryl Fink, a spokesperson for the group, dismissed the event as nothing more than a "publicity stunt."

Seals, she said, are commercially hunted in Canada for their fur, not for food.

"Meat is not the primary reason seals are being killed in Canada today," she said.