05/21/2015 08:30 EDT | Updated 05/21/2016 05:59 EDT

Pro-sealing group protests in France as EU trade discussions begin

Denmark-based Inuit Sila is protesting at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, this week, stressing that time is running out to overturn a controversial ban on seal products they say threatens traditional Inuit lifestyle.

European Union lawmakers are set to debate trade rules later this month, and the international body's ban on seal products will be on the agenda. Outside Parliament, protesters showed off seal skin clothes and served up barbecued seal meat, speaking about the importance of selling pelts for Greenland hunters.

The ban, introduced in 2009, was upheld last summer after Canada filed an appeal with the World Trade Organization. The market for seal products has crashed since the ban, which some, including Greenland deputy foreign affairs minister Kai Anderson, say is hypocritical.

According to Anderson, while seal products are banned, some European countries destroy and dispose of seals because they pose a threat to fish stock. 

"It's sad for us to see," said Anderson. "It's an affront to our culture of thousands of years, living sustainably off the seals, as a resource we respect and use 100 per cent of for eating and for materials."

Inuit Sila began in Denmark with the goal of advocating for hunters against an EU ban on sealing products. In January, representatives traveled to Iqaluit, Nunavut, speaking with local hunters and governments about uniting and strengthening the Inuit voice internationally.

Iqaluit resident Aaju Peter is at the protests, and said that while it's too early to tell if the protests have made an impact, the tide may slowly be changing on the controversial ban. 

"There were some members who originally voted to ban the import of seal who have since come around. Who are now realizing: 'ah, we made a big mistake,'" she said. "And I'm very, very pleased about that." 

According to Anderson, protesters have until June 4, when trade debates rap up, to convince lawmakers to overturn the ban.