Madam Chair, it is certainly a pleasure for me to stand today and express my opposition to the European legislation that would ban the placing on the market of seal products except under very restricted conditions. Those conditions would exclude the vast majority of Canadian seal products and will in all likelihood ensure the collapse of any potential market for such products.
I am astounded that some European parliamentarians believe that such a ban is justified. An examination of available evidence leads to the absolutely inescapable conclusion that the seal hunt is sustainable, it is humane, it is appropriately regulated, and it contributes very significantly to the local economies of dozens of small communities along our Atlantic coast and in northern Canada.
This legislation is not based on any scientific or legitimate legal foundation. No. It is based on misinformation and manipulation of public opinion. I do not believe and I do not think any other members of this honourable House believe that this is an appropriate use of legislative power.
We must be wary of single interest groups with unlimited funds who are prepared to use those funds to influence public policy to their own ends.
I am going to discuss the European proposed regulation providing the House and anyone who is watching this debate with some of the background to the proposal and some detail on the legislative process.
I will talk about three main issues that fuel the debate over sealing. I will explain why the arguments posed by the anti-sealing movement are so very and absolutely wrong.
For many years opponents of the seal hunt have sowed misinformation in the European imagination. They published inflammatory and misleading images accompanied by commentary criticizing the Canadian seal hunt and encouraging the audience to contribute generously to anti-sealing organizations. These images are broadcast far and wide by the friendly media. By friendly media I mean the media that is friendly to this cause.
This misinformation has led to the development of a body of public opinion in Europe which is decidedly anti-sealing.
A significant part of the anti-sealing campaign has been to bombard elected representatives with correspondence and petitions designed to persuade them that there is strong opposition toward the seal hunt. As a result, members of the European parliament requested the European commission to draft legislation to ban seal products.
The European commission requested the European food safety authority to investigate the issue of animal welfare. The European food safety authority acknowledged several difficulties in its report, notably on the reliance on some studies that are not scientifically rigorous, and lo and behold may contain some bias.
In its conclusions the report notes that seals can be and are killed rapidly and effectively without causing avoidable pain, distress, fear and other forms of suffering, but it raises a concern that it is not always the case.
To allay this concern the report suggests that seals should be killed using a three step process which involves striking, checking for irreversible unconsciousness or death, and bleeding to ensure death. This was the same process recommended by the independent veterinarians working group that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans was already implementing as early as 2007.
I am pleased to be able to say that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has implemented the necessary changes to the marine mammal regulations and to license conditions governing the hunt to make the three step process mandatory for the Canadian seal hunt. That means that we have addressed the concerns of the European parliament.
Despite the obvious weakness of the arguments favouring the ban on seal products, the European commission tabled a proposal for a regulation concerning trade and seal products on July 23, 2008. The proposal includes mechanisms for the exemption of products of an Inuit hunt and for derogation of products of hunts that can be demonstrated to be conducted in a humane manner.
The legal basis for this proposal was drawn from a European Union treaty and relies upon the consideration of internal market harmonization and animal welfare concerns, driven by public perception of cruelty. The ban is already legislated by some member-states of the European Union. Over the past several months, the legislative proposal has been studied by committees of the European parliament and of the council of ministers. Many amendments were proposed. Some were rejected and some were accepted.
We do not, as of yet, have full and final details of the exact wording of the legislation. We have been given to understand that the text that has been agreed upon is one that permits the placing on the market of seal products resulting from hunts traditionally conducted by Inuit and other indigenous communities. Other products such as souvenirs and products from hunts that are conducted on a not-for-profit basis will also be permitted.
I am now going to discuss the three key premises to the opposition of the seal hunt: that it is not sustainable, that it is only of small economic value for Canadians, and that it is inhumane. All of these premises are patently false. The truth of the matter is that a large and healthy population of harp seals lives along Canada's Atlantic coastline. The population of harp seals has risen dramatically in recent decades, from 2 million in the early 1970s to over 5.6 million seals today. In other words, the estimated number of harp seal has nearly tripled.
Quotas are set annually using a precautionary framework, an ecosystem approach, and peer-reviewed scientific advice. The seal populations that are currently hunted are in no way considered endangered or at risk. There is no reputable international scientific organization that has raised a single concern about the harp seal population in the northwest Atlantic. Not one. Clearly, the commercial hunt does not threaten the harp and hooded seal population in Canadian waters. There can be no doubt that Canada's commercial seal hunt is absolutely and unequivocally sustainable.
Second, opponents argue that sealers, processors and exporters derive little financial benefit from this work, so a ban would have little impact on them and the communities in which they live. That is rubbish. It is hard to imagine an argument that is more ignorant or harmful to the hard-working people in Canadian coastal communities. In Newfoundland and Labrador, for instance, approximately 2% of the labour force, some 5,000 to 6,000 people, derive their income from sealing. Sealing is an essential component of the local economies of many remote communities. These are places where jobs are few and far between and where men and women must take advantage of every available opportunity to provide for their families. For thousands of Canadians, the seal hunt accounts for more than a quarter of their annual income.
Seal products are not just limited to the skins or pelts. Our policy advocates the fullest possible use of the animal. The products such as meat, collagen and omega 3 are all derived from seals and marketed internationally. These are health food products. In addition, new and promising medical research has determined that harp seal heart valves are superior to those currently used in human heart valve transplants. It is thought that demand could be as high as 300,000 valves per year.
There can be no doubt that Canadians obtain economic benefits from using our natural resources. I think we can all agree that the perceived cruelty of the seal hunt is the greatest obstacle to overcome. I think we can also agree that witnessing the death of any animal is not a pleasant experience. However, no third party observers and no television cameras are permitted in a slaughterhouse. Nobody sees what happens in there, but the whole world sees what happens on the ice floes in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Canadians care about the welfare of animals. Canada is committed to setting humane standards for animal welfare. With regard to sealing, Canada has been very active in setting standards and rules for humane killing methods. The management and methods of the commercial seal hunt are based on peer-reviewed science and advice from veterinarians to guarantee that seals are killed and skinned in a humane way. Canada seeks out the best scientific information on humane killing methods and requirements have been continuously updated based on this information.
There can be no doubt that Canada spares no effort to ensure that the seal hunt is conducted humanely.