Born Free USA Blog
by Will Travers,
Chief Executive Officer
What can you say about a big-hearted bloke who has rescued dolphins, tigers, elephants and more and whose parents once helped a lion cub from a department store by caring for him in their backyard and engineering his rightful return to Africa? You can safely say that he's got great animal instincts! In 1984, Will Travers joined his parents — "Born Free" film stars Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers — to form what became The Born Free Foundation. With knowledge, passion and compassion dripping from his every word, Will's blogs are sure to make you embrace our crusade to Keep Wildlife in the Wild ®.
In a case where human obstructionism trumps animal protectionism, the World Trade Organization (WTO) earlier this month found that the United States is playing unfair with Mexico by selling tuna that is labeled as “dolphin-friendly.” It is an issue I have tracked for nearly two decades.
Mexican fishing interests, the court ruled, are placed at a trade disadvantage because the methods they use to catch tuna (chasing dolphins with boats and aircraft, casting drift nets) also kill dolphins. Since national sovereignty and international trade rules preclude anyone ordering Mexico to crack down on dolphin slaughter, the United States instead is being ordered to stop identifying dolphin-friendly tuna as “dolphin-friendly.”
In other words, the lowest common denominator, Mexican fishing techniques, wins. Dolphins, and the U.S. consumers who don’t want them to be collateral damage of the tuna industry, lose.
The WTO has given the United States 18 months to cease allowing the sale of canned tuna that is labeled “dolphin-friendly.” Otherwise, the country risks being fined or in some other way disciplined by a governing body that oversees trade issues among 134 countries, including the United States, which signed on in 1995.
Ideally, Mexican fishermen would be taught how to catch tuna without endangering dolphins, so there no longer would be a trade disadvantage with “dolphin-friendly” labeling. But what actually might happen is that Mexican-caught tuna will be sold on shelves alongside dolphin-friendly tuna, but there will be no “dolphin-friendly” labels and thereby no easy way to tell the difference.
Someone needs to cast about for a better way to handle this situation. Soon. Because it’s not just about dolphins and tuna. Preventing individual nations from regulating sales of merchandise based on cruel production methods could prove disastrous for other species. What’s next? I guess the WTO will let us know.