BEIJING, HALIFAX–Canadian Fisheries Minister Gail Shea on January 12, 2011 announced to news media by teleconference call from Beijing that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Chinese Administration of Quality Supervision have reached an agreement which will allow Canadian sealers to export seal meat and oil to China for human consumption.
Struggling to find new markets since the European Union banned the import of seal products in July 2009, Shea and Newfoundland and Labrador Fisheries Minister Clyde Jackman visited China to finalize the agreement after more than a year of negotiation. Shea “couldn’t put a dollar value on the possible seal meat and oil exports, but said it will be up to the industry to promote a product they have tried for years to introduce to the Asian country,” reported Alison Auld of Canadian Press.
“Initialling this arrangement of course means we now have access, but it will be up to the industry to ensure that we actually start selling some of these products into the marketplace,” Shea acknowledged.
“The population is so high in China that if everybody buys some pelt or product from seal, we won’t have to trade anymore with Europe,” Magdalen Islands Sealers’ Association president Denis Longuépée speculated to CBC News.
“Yes, Chinese consumers have impressive purchasing power,” responded Beijing Animal Welfare Association director Qin Xiaona. “Yet, I am sure Chinese consumers would reject seal products without a moment’s hesitation if they knew the cruelty behind them.”
Agreed China Small Animal Protection Association founder Lu Di, to Agence France-Presse, “‘Do not give to others what you yourself do not want’ is an ancient Chinese proverb. It is insulting for Canada to market these products in China.”
The directors of 42 Chinese animal advocacy organizations joined Qin Xiaona and Lu Di in signing a joint letter of protest.
“This is a slap on the face for China, Chinese culture and Chinese people,” wrote Grace Ge Gabriel, Asia regional director for International Fund for Animal Welfare, in a separate statement. “China is not a dumping ground for Canadian seal products. Chinese consumers should not shoulder the ethical responsibility of paying for the cruel slaughter of seals in Canada,” Gabriel said.
“I don’t believe there is any future for the Canadian sealing industry in China,” said Humane Society of the U.S. sealing spokesperson Rebecca Aldworth, from Montreal. “I’m confident the people of China will reject these products of cruelty just as the rest of the world has.”
Aldworth toured China in November 2010, airing video from the 2010 Atlantic Canada seal hunt.
Apart from the humane issues involved, seal meat is reputedly almost inedible for most people. Only seal flippers are routinely eaten in Atlantic Canada, and not by many people.
The January 2011 deal may not actually expand the Chinese market for seal products.
Seal penises of Canadian origin have been sold in China for more than 10 years. Department of Fisheries Oceans Canada spokesperson Alain Belle-Isle in January 2010 acknowledged that Canada exported $1.1 million in seal fats and oil to China in 2009. This was about 10% of the total income of the Atlantic Canada seal hunt.
But the January 2011 agreement may hint that new medicinal products based on seal oil may soon be marketed. Lily Wang, founder of a company called North Atlantic Biopharma, based in St. John, Newfoundland, told media in 2005 that the Guangzeng Pharmaceutical Group of China would invest $8 million to $10 million to complete clinical testing of medicines based on seal oil, in exchange for exclusive distribution rights. Wang predicted that the seal oil products could win approval within four years, and would have the potential to double Atlantic Canada seal hunt revenues, then estimated at $16.5 million per year.
North Atlantic Biopharma received start-up funding in 2001 from the Newfoundland trade ministry and four other government agencies, and continued to receive Canadian government funding at least through 2008.
In Taipei, Taiwan, meanwhile, Associated Press reported that the leading pharmacy retailers Watsons and Cosmed in December 2010 discontinued selling seal oil products after more than 160,000 Taiwanese signed petitions circulated by the Animal Society of Taiwan. Watsons has 230 stores in Taiwan; Cosmed has 110.