Activists praise Russia ban on harp seal trade

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French actress Brigitte Bardot and the International Fund for Animal Welfare on Tuesday praised Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan for banning the import and export of harp seal skins.

"It's the biggest victory in the campaign to end commercial sealing since the European Union banned non-Inuit seal products, and we could not ask for a more wonderful holiday gift for everyone who has fought so hard with IFAW to protect seals," the group said on its website.

Bardot echoed the IFAW's delight, ranking Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as "her favorite prime minister" for having imposed the ban.

Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan actually took the decision last summer. It quietly took effect on August 20 and went unnoticed when the three countries that form a customs union informed the United Nations on October 17.

Russia received up to 90 percent of Canadian seal exports, the IFAW said, citing Canadian government figures, and as a result of the ban "the future looks bleaker than ever for the dying Canadian sealing industry," it added.

Ottawa maintains that the 350-year-old commercial seal hunt is humane and crucial for around 6,000 North Atlantic fishermen who rely on it for up to 35 percent of their total annual income.

Animal rights groups, however, say it is a barbaric ritual and have waged an aggressive campaign in recent years to stop it, leading to the European ban, which took effect in 2010.

This year China joined Japan and South Korea as new markets for Canadian seal products by authorizing seal meat and seal oil imports.

© 2011 AFP

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