Canadians can fight Putin and Ryan Reynolds by eating seals, senate committee told

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The Senate standing committee on Fisheries and Oceans heard claims that everyone from the Russians to celebrities like Ryan Reynolds are behind efforts to spread misinformation about the seal hunt.

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Canada’s top chefs should offer seal meat on their menus as part of the battle against Russian propaganda as well as celebrities who have spoken out against the seal hunt, a senate committee heard.

At the same hearing, independent Senator Bev Busson suggested mega-singing star Taylor Swift might be used to convince young people to chow down on seal.

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But animal rights activists say claims that Russian propaganda is behind the problems of Canada’s seal industry is a bizarre conspiracy theory. Instead, they point to the ban by 35 nations on commercial seal products as the real reason the industry has declined.

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The ban, however, hasn’t stopped some from looking for new ways to revive the commercial seal industry.

The Senate standing committee on Fisheries and Oceans has heard claims that everyone from the Russians to environmentalists to celebrities such as former Beatle Paul McCartney, and actors Ryan Reynolds and Pamela Anderson, are behind efforts to spread misinformation about the seal hunt.

Marcus Kolga, who cited among his evidence a 2016 documentary narrated by Reynolds as well as a newscast on Russian state media in 2009 and 2015, told senators that “communities in Canada are being threatened by disinformation” about the seal hunt.

One way to counter that would be a campaign to convince Canadians to start eating seal on a regular basis. Influential chefs could be asked to introduce seal meat on their menus, Kolga, of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, told senators at the Dec. 7 hearing.

Such influencers could “normalize the consumption of seals….Canadians need to realize that eating seal is as normal as eating a lamb chop or a veal sandwich,” added Kolga.

He also suggested that Canadian embassies should be feeding seal to foreign dignitaries at official state functions.

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But Sheryl Fink of the International Fund for Animal Welfare said the senate committee and some witnesses appearing before it don’t seem to realize the federal government and seal industry have already tried to promote the consumption of seal meat. Such meat is already offered at a few restaurants in Montreal and Toronto.

“It never caught on with the public,” Fink told this newspaper. “Most people just don’t want to eat seal.”

Previous government efforts to boost the sale of seal products have also failed, noted Fink. As an example, she pointed to a 2014 plan which recommended the Fisheries and Oceans department try to revive the market for the sale of seal penises.

The study done for the department recommended creating markets for parts of the seal carcass, noting that “the penises of juvenile and adult males may be dried and sold as sex enhancement products, particularly to Asian buyers,” the Canadian Press news service reported at the time.

Fink said suggestions that opposition to Canada’s east coast harp seal hunt is the result of a Russian propaganda campaign are not only false but smack of some bizarre conspiracy theory.

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“Opposition to the large scale commercial slaughter of seals on Canada’s east coast has hardly been limited to celebrities and ‘influencers’”, she added. “It includes veterinarians, scientists, economists, ethicists, and Canadian from all walks of life who simply do not see the value in continuing to waste taxpayer dollars trying to create a viable market for seal products.”

Kolga and the Macdonald-Laurier Institute did not respond to requests for comment.

Fink said the widespread bans across the world and a decline in Chinese interest in seal fur has significantly limited the industry.

Anti-seal hunt campaigns have been aimed at the east coast, commercial seal hunt, which is different from Inuit seal hunting, she noted. Inuit seal products have an exemption under many of the bans brought in by other nations.

The senate committee is holding hearings to examine and report on Canada’s seal populations and their effect on fisheries.

Senate committee deputy chair Bev Busson, citing Kolga’s comments about Reynolds, suggested during the hearing that singer Taylor Swift could be recruited as an “influencer” to convince young people to eat seals. “I guess [Ryan Reynolds] is out as an influencer for us, sadly,” Busson said. “We are looking at the Swifties, so maybe Taylor Swift, who knows? Certainly that group and that age group seem to be target groups for us.”

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After being asked Jan. 29 about the Taylor Swift recommendation, Busson’s office now claims the senator’s remarks were made “tongue-in-cheek.”

Fisheries and Oceans Canada did not answer directly whether it will be trying to revive the trade in seal penises or launch a campaign to convince chefs to put seal meat on restaurant menus.

“Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is aware of the ongoing study of the Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans and awaits its conclusion and the committee’s subsequent report,” stated Kathryn Hallett of the department’s media relations branch. “DFO will continue to work closely with Global Affairs Canada and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to explore innovative market development solutions and to maintain and improve access to international markets.”

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