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To implement a World Trade Organization ruling, U.S. lawmakers potentially could repeal or weaken the U.S. Dolphin Safe label – a prospect drawing protest from leading animal rescue groups. The WTO ruling found that the U.S. Dolphin Safe label for tuna sold in the United States does not comply with certain WTO rules.
“The WTO ruling ignores extensive scientific evidence of the harm caused by targeting dolphins as a means to catch tuna, and overreaches as a matter of law,” said Kitty Block, vice president of Humane Society International. “It leaves the door open for Congress to repeal or weaken the label, marking this decision a huge loss for dolphins, and undermining the legitimacy of a label millions of consumers have grown to trust.”
Prior to enactment of the U.S. Dolphin Safe label in 1991, millions of dolphins were killed as a result of a fishing method that intentionally targets and deploys nets on dolphins to capture the tuna swimming beneath them. The label gave consumers the choice to purchase tuna products that are truly "dolphin safe."
While the U.S. label does not prohibit trade in tuna products, and other countries have the option of using it, some have argued that it forms a trade barrier. Mexico continually has refused to push for change in fishing practices, and instead sought to weaken the criteria for "dolphin-safe" tuna, hoping to successfully market tuna caught with methods that target and kill dolphins to U.S. consumers.
"This ruling is a troubling precedent that will give pause to global leaders as they consider whether even voluntary environmental or animal welfare standards might be deemed trade barriers," wrote Beth Allgood, Campaigns Manager in the Washington DC office of International Fund for Animal Welfare.
According to the U.S. government statistics cited by Allgood, the number of dolphins killed in Pacific Ocean fishery west of Mexico is as high as 1,000 drowned dolphins a year.