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EU court temporarily exempts Inuit from seal hunting ban

The EU General Court [official website] has issued a temporary injunction exempting Inuit hunters from Canada and Greenland from an EU ban on seal hunting that went into effect on Friday. Regulation (EC) No 1007/2009 [text, PDF] recognizes seals as "sentient beings that can experience pain, distress, fear and other forms of suffering," and bans all imports containing seal products. In January, representatives of Canada's Inuit population filed suit in the EU General Court [JURIST report] challenging the ban on seal products, arguing that the hunting represented a traditional aspect of the Inuit's lifestyle. The plaintiffs in the case made the court decision public [AFP report] on Thursday, although the interpretation of the exemption is still being debated. A spokesperson for the EU's executive branch indicated that the exemption applied only to the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, while a lawyer for the plaintiffs stated that he believed the regulation was effectively suspended. The EU has been given until September 7 [AP report] to respond to the injunction.

The Canadian government took action [press release] against the ban in November, initiating the World Trade Organization (WTO) [official website] dispute resolution process by requesting consultations. The ban follows extensive public pressure [CBC report] to end seal hunting by groups citing humanitarian considerations. More narrow European restrictions imposed in 1983 caused the industry to suffer a sharp decline. Commercial seal hunting is an economic and cultural staple for the Inuit, who contend that their methods are necessary and humane.

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