Seal clubbers out in force as demand for fur booms

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The Independent US

Canadian ice floes are streaked with blood once again as the largest seal cull in 50 years gets under way amid rising demand for baby seal pelts.

Canadian ice floes are streaked with blood once again as the largest seal cull in 50 years gets under way amid rising demand for baby seal pelts.

The annual seal hunt, which almost died off 20 years ago, has turned into an industry worth US$30m (£16m) a year from which 12,000 Canadians earn a living. Although seal products remain banned in the US and are frowned upon in much of western Europe, emerging markets in Russia, Poland, Ukraine and China have brought the seal clubbers out in force. Up to 350,000 baby harp seals will be culled - one in three seals born.

Canada is braced for a deluge of criticism from animal rights activists. Rebecca Aldworth, an advocate with the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said: "This slaughter that everyone thinks has disappeared is back with a vengeance." The barbarity of the slaughter - traditionally baby harp seals' skulls are crushed with a club, but some are still in convulsions when skinned - prompted a campaign in the 1970s and 1980s by animal rights activists that saw the industry almost disappear. But now this has changed. Tina Fagan of the Canadian Sealers' Association, said: "Markets are good, acceptance is growing and prices are well up."

The cull has not attracted the outrage it once did, partly because the Canadian seal population rebounded during the slump in pelt demand, and is blamed for depleting cod stocks.

The Canadian government has also issued guidelines on humane slaughter and banned the killing of seal pups less than 12 days old. Canada says that seals are no longer skinned alive. A spokesman said: "Hunters administer a blinking-eye reflex test to ensure death."

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