AS Watson

Watsons pulls seal oil after animal rights 'cruelty' campaign

PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 31 January, 2011, 12:00am

Watsons is to withdraw a controversial seal oil supplement from its Hong Kong stores after animal campaigners urged it not to sell what they called a 'product of cruelty'.

However, the pharmacy chain claims the decision to take the two products off its shelves was purely 'commercial', taken after a trial of the products - Bill Natural Sources Canadian Seal Oil.

The two products, on sale for HK$188 and HK$388, are made from oil extracted from the blubber of seals killed in an annual hunt on the ice floes off the Atlantic coast of Canada.

The oil is advertised as a rich source of Omega 3, which promotes good health and is essential for the brain and a healthy heart.

Animal campaigners claim the hunt is cruel and results in suffering for the young seals, many of which are clubbed on the skull with a metal spiked club or shot.

Rebecca Aldworth, of the Humane Society International, welcomed the decision by Watsons.

'I believe it is the responsibility of all retailers to know the origins of the products they sell. It is jointly the responsibility of consumers to ensure that they are also aware of those origins,' Aldworth said.

'The good news is, when people and businesses do learn of the cruel origins of seal products, they usually make the decision to stop selling them. Seal oil is an expensive, controversial product that enters a market already crowded with dozens of cheaper and more ethical alternatives. There are many good business reasons not to sell this product.'

Watsons declined to say whether it looked into the source of the oil before putting it on sale in Hong Kong or whether it had been influenced by calls from animal welfare groups.

'The two seal oil products have been introduced to our stores only recently for a few months as a trial to provide more choice to our customers,' a spokeswoman said.

Hong Kong SPCA executive director Sandy Macalister said he was pleased to learn Watsons would not be restocking the seal oil.

The SPCA launched its own campaign with an online petition to try to persuade the Hong Kong government to stop the import of any seal products from Canada.

Last year about 67,000 seals were killed in the hunt, a much lower figure than the 220,000 deaths in previous years.

The Humane Society says the Canadian seal industry is now targeting Asia with seal products that sustain the hunt following a ban on all seal products by the European Union in 2009.