Traps like this were outlawed in Britain in the 1950s. Now the US wants to stop us banning fur caught this way

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Trappers in Canada and the United States are trying to force the European Union to scrap its impending ban on the import of furs from animals that are caught in cruel and inhumane traps.

With the full support of their respective governments, the trappers intend to exploit a loophole in the ban which allows imports of fur of animals caught using "internationally recognised humane trapping standards".

The fur trade dominates a key international group that is setting trapping standards and it is shepherding through a series of measures that would condemn millions of animals to agonising deaths.

It hopes to use international trade agreements to force Europe to accept fur from animals caught in traps that snap bones, tendons and ligaments or drown their prey.

Use of the traps was banned in Britain in the Fifties and across Europe on 1 January this year. Under a new European regulation, the sale of fur from animals caught in steel-jawed leghold traps will be banned in the EU from 1 January next year.

US and Canadian trappers are lobbying hard for the ban to be scrapped.

According to documents that have been obtained by the Independent, and criticisms voiced by animal welfare bodies, the Canadian and US fur lobby dominates the technical committee of the Geneva-based International Standards Organisation (ISO) which is looking at trapping.

The committee's final recommendations to the ISO on the fur trade are due later this year, and are expected to legitimise traps that have been branded as both "unacceptable" and "inhumane" by the Scientific Veterinary Committee, which advises the European Commission on animal welfare and husbandry policies. International free-trade rules could be used to overturn the European welfare laws.

Last month, Stuart Eizenstat, the US ambassador to the EU, tried to persuade Ritt Bjerregaard, the EU's Environment Commissioner, to scrap the ban. And last week, Canada's international trade minister, Roy MacLaren, warned the EU that Canada would seek "trade remedies" if an agreement on fur imports was not reached. Talks between Sir Leon Brittan, the Vice- President of the EU, and Mickey Kantor, the American trade representative, are planned.

If the ISO international guidelines allow the use of steel leg traps, there is expected to be intense pressure on the Canadian and US governments from the fur trade to have the European ban set aside through the World Trade Organisation. The Canadian government initiated a challenge to the ban in April 1994.

The Canadians are determined to win international acceptance of their trapping methods. The government has been advised by a public relations firm to label Canadian fur "so as to assure the wearer that the animal was caught humanely . . . where environmental balance is always a key consideration".

'Fearful cruelty', page 2