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The Ecologist Film Unit (EFU) is a UK-based not-for-profit news organisation dedicated to investigative reporting on environmental issues, with a particular focus on food and farming, wildlife and consumer affairs. We produce original investigative content for broadcast, print and online output, and work with external media outlets and partners to maximise exposure.

Revealed: the companies at centre of global trade in seal skins

An investigation by The Ecologist has discovered that London is at the hub of an international trade in controversial Canadian seal skins – the subject of this week’s EU vote to outlaw their sale across Europe.

Campaigners have long suspected that UK-based dealers are playing a central role in the international trade of seal skins, but little has been known about the companies or the trade routes.

Posing as fur buyers, reporters met with London-based fur companies selling the seal skins and mapped out the complex trail of skins from Canada to the Far East. Skins were offered in London for between $8 and $22, depending on their quality.

The Ecologist discovered that the London-based fur dealers are buying the skins in from Canada and selling them on to Scandinavia and Europe, from where they are dispatched to China to be turned into fashion garments ranging from coats to handbags! The European Union is an important transhipment point for seal pelt exports headed to markets in Russia and China.

Although Russia and China are the biggest markets for sealskin garments and accessories, items containing sealskin have been found on sale in the European Union, including the UK. Leading fashion houses, including Prada, Versace and Gucci have in recent years been criticised by lobby groups, including the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the Humane Society of the United States for using Canadian sealskins in the manufacture of their clothing.

Pat Thomas, Editor of the Ecologist magazine, today said: “Although there was no suggestion of illegality or wrongdoing by the British companies involved in the sealskin trade, it shows that this barbaric trade is going on right under our noses, even though the British Government opposes the seal huntl. It will add further fuel to a highly emotive issue and undoubtedly shock the British public who in the majority are against this annual seal massacre on the ice flows of the Gulf of St Lawrence, Newfoundland, Labrador and the gulf portion of Quebec,”

The European Parliament this week voted to ban imports of seal products, including fur coats and even omega-3 pills, trying to force Canada to end the annual seal hunt that animal rights groups call barbaric. The EU assembly overwhelmingly endorsed a bill that said commercial seal hunting, notably in Canada, is “inherently inhumane.” The bill still needs the backing of EU governments, but officials called that a formality since national envoys had already endorsed the bill.

Canada’s East Coast seal hunt is the largest of its kind in the world, killing an average of 300,000 harp seals annually. Canada exported around $5.5 million U.S. dollars worth of seal products such as pelts, meat, and oils to the EU in 2006.

To read the investigation see www.theecologist.org
For more information see www.ifaw.org

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