EFSA adopts a scientific opinion on the animal welfare aspects of different methods of killing and skinning of seals

EFSA’s Animal Health and Welfare (AHAW) Panel has adopted a scientific opinion on the killing and skinning seals. EFSA’s independent scientific experts have looked objectively at the best available evidence to assess whether seals can be killed rapidly and effectively without causing avoidable pain, distress, fear and other forms of suffering, and if so which methods are most likely to achieve that.

The Panel noted that there are only a limited number of quantitative studies published in peer-reviewed journals to be used as the basis for the evaluation of the efficacy of various killing methods with an adequately high degree of certainty. Additional studies are available, notably from industry-linked groups and from NGOs. The Panel concluded that such studies may contain potential serious biases, but nevertheless there were obvious areas of concern for seal welfare.

The Panel concluded that seals are sentient mammals who can feel pain, distress, fear and other forms of suffering. The Panel also concluded that it is possible to kill seals rapidly and effectively without causing them avoidable pain or distress. However the Panel also reported evidence that, in practice, effective and humane killing does not always happen.

The Panel recommended that the netting and trapping of seals underwater should not be used as it is inherently inhumane because of the possibility of prolonged suffering. Appropriate firearms can ensure effective killing on adults and young seals, as can hakapiks and other clubs when appropriately designed and used correctly but only on young seals.

Independent monitoring of seal hunts was recommended by the Panel: independent of both industry/commercial interests and NGOs. Hunts should be open to inspection, the Panel also said.

The importance of the training of hunters was stressed by the Panel. This is to ensure a high standard of competence in firearm and club use, as well as effective techniques to monitor unconsciousness and death.

EFSA received data from a wide range of sources including industry, animal welfare organisations, governments and other bodies within the EU and third countries. A draft report and opinion were prepared by a working group of the AHAW Panel and discussed with stakeholders at a meeting in October 2007. Around 25 organisations from 11 countries attended the meeting. Following the meeting all stakeholders were given time to submit any further data for consideration which were taken into account in preparing the report and draft opinion. In addition, following a general request for input to the EFSA Advisory Forum, the Norwegian Scientific Committee for Food Safety adopted a Scientific Opinion on animal welfare aspects of the killing and skinning of seals in the Norwegian hunt which was also considered.

EFSA’s opinion was requested by the European Commission to help inform its consideration in relation to possible measures concerning the killing of seals and the trade in seal fur and other products derived from seals. Animal health and welfare is part of EFSA’s overall remit and so the Authority has contributed its independent scientific expertise to objectively assess the available evidence in relation to the welfare aspects of the methods currently being used for killing and skinning seals. However, EFSA does not have a mandate to decide whether such practices should or should not be permitted, nor to consider ethical, economic, social, cultural, managerial or other related issues.

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