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China animal rights groups protest seal meat deal

by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Jan 13, 2011
More than 40 Chinese animal rights groups on Thursday hit out at Canada for turning China into a "dumping ground" for its seal meat and oils, after the products were banned in the European Union.

The agreement to allow the imports into China was reached during a visit to Beijing by Canadian Fisheries Minister Gail Shea, and follows a EU ban on seal product imports imposed after an activist outcry over commercial seal hunting.

"'Do not give to others what you yourself do not want' is an ancient Chinese proverb," said Lu Di, head of the China Small Animal Protection Association.

"It is insulting for Canada to market these products in China," she added in a statement emailed to AFP, also backed by 41 other animal protection groups around China.

The Canadian government maintains that the 350-year-old commercial seal hunt is humane and crucial for some 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 barbaric, and have waged an aggressive campaign in recent years to stop the annual hunt.

"Yes, Chinese consumers have impressive purchasing power," Qin Xiaona, director of Beijing's Animal Welfare Association, said in the statement.

"Yet, I am sure Chinese consumers would reject without a moment's hesitation seal products if they knew the cruelty behind them. With rising environmental awareness, many people have vowed to be ethically responsible consumers."

Officials at China's commerce and agriculture ministries were not immediately available for comment.

Shea on Thursday defended the industry, saying the groups' reaction was "an attack on a legitimate Canadian industry, which affects Canadian families directly who... in a lot of cases have little other options for employment."

"The Canadian industry is both humane and sustainable and we can back that up in fact," she told AFP, adding that a panel of independent vets had reviewed seal harvest methods and made recommendations from which new rules were set.

China is the third largest importer of Canadian fish and seafood, behind the United States and European Union.

By authorising seal meat and oil imports, it joins Japan and South Korea as new markets for Canadian seal products.

The animal rights movement is gradually gaining ground in China -- which for years has had a dismal record on animal welfare -- amid increased public awareness, especially among the younger generation.

The nation's first draft animal protection law is currently being discussed, but is not expected to come into force for several years.

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