Page last updated at 21:52 GMT, Thursday, 28 May 2009 22:52 UK

Dignitary defends eating raw seal

Michaelle Jean
Ms Jean helped gut the seal before eating a slice

Canada's Governor General Michaelle Jean has strongly defended her decision to eat raw seal heart as a show of support to seal hunters.

She ate the slice of heart on Monday at an Inuit community feast during which a seal was carved up and pieces of it were passed around.

"This activity is part of life... for thousands in the Arctic. It is vital for them," said Ms Jean.

Animal rights groups have criticised her support of a "cruel practice".

Ms Jean used a traditional Inuit knife to help gut the animal, before eating some a festival at Rankin Inlet with hundreds of Inuit.

Her action was praised by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and commercial seal hunters.

'Barbaric' industry

The governor general is representative of Canada's head of state, Queen Elizabeth II.

The incident came weeks after the EU voted to ban Canadian seal products, probably from before the 2010 hunting season, on the grounds that the seal hunt is cruel.

Inuit people are partially exempt from the ban, but cannot trade pelts and other seal goods with Europe.

Many fear that it will inevitably have a negative effect on their livelihoods as well.

The authorities say the hunt is crucial for about 6,000 North Atlantic fishermen who rely on it for much of their income.

The government has authorised the killing of more than 300,000 seals this year.

But fisheries officials say only about 65,000 seals will be killed as a fall in the price of seal pelts means there are fewer hunters this season.

Animal welfare groups have long argued that the killing of young seals by hunters is barbaric.

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