FROM EXPLOITERS TO STEWARDS: EUROPEANS AND THE MORAL STATUS
by Ardeth Baxter
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In the Spanish province of Cataluña, a new law forbids euthanizing abandoned pets, declawing cats, pigeon shooting, and selling animals to minors. It also prohibits children under fourteen from attending a corrida (bullfight). Barcelona, the capital of Cataluña, voted to oppose bullfighting in the city, although it’s not legally binding.
In Italy this year, an animal cruelty bill was introduced which would impose prison terms of up to one year and large fines for anyone convicted of pet abandonment, as well as mutilating or torturing animals, organizing dog fights, or participating in the cat and dog fur industry. The northern province of Piedmont is considering requiring microchips in every pet. In the city of Turin, people may be fined if they don’t walk their dogs at least three times a day, and they’re banned from any form of animal mutilation for aesthetic reasons (e.g., docking tails). Italy is also considering a law forbidding sending retired racing horses to the slaughterhouse.
Germany changed its law in 2002 to state that animals, like humans, have the right to be respected by the state and to have their dignity protected. A decade earlier, Switzerland legally acknowledged animals as “beings” rather than things.
Austria now has one of the strictest new animal cruelty laws in Europe, banning the cropping of dogs’ ears and tails, requiring farmers to uncage their chickens, and protecting puppies and kittens from suffering in pet shop windows, with large fines and seizure of the animals in cases of extreme cruelty. Other provisions outlaw lions and other wild animals in circuses and make the use of chains, choke collars and invisible fences for dogs illegal.
Traditional fox hunting and hare coursing with dogs is now illegal in England and Wales, although there are loopholes in the laws that are being exploited. The 2004 English Animal Welfare Bill requires owners of ‘vertebrate’ animals to promote their welfare.
European Union members Hungary and France have been given 15 years to abolish force-feeding of geese to produce foie gras, while Germany, Norway, Denmark, and Poland have decided on their own initiative to ban foie gras production. Last year Hungary’s parliament banned cockfighting and the breeding or sale of animals for fighting, and made animal torture a felony punishable by up to two years in prison.
The above animal bills and laws have been made possible by a new European attitude that animals are not just property, but have inherent value in themselves and, like humans, can suffer.
Some 25 European countries belong to the EU for economic and political reasons, and several animal welfare treaties created by the Council of Europea 46-member intergovernmental bodyhave been adopted by the EU. The European Conventions for the Protection of Pet Animals, Animals Kept for Farming Purposes, and Animals for Slaughter, as well as livestock transport regulations, are the major EU laws governing animals.
The pet law protects companion animals against unnecessary pain, distress, or abandonment, recommends neutering to avoid unplanned breeding, and provides guidelines for potential pet guardians and rules on trading, commercial breeding, boarding, and animal sanctuaries. Some EU members have agreed to all the provisions, while others abide by some sections of the law. For example, a number of countries still allow tail docking in some or all breeds. A controversial proposal by the Council of Europe that a number of dog and cat breeds be banned in their current form because of mutations and health problems has not been adopted by EU countries, and is unlikely to be passed.
The farm animal law regulates food, fiber and other farming animals. It calls for the phasing out of such cruelties as battery cages for egg-laying hens, crates for veal calves, and gestation crates for pregnant sows, all of which are still used in the US. The law on the transport of livestock presently allows only eight hours of animal travel for vehicles without water and requires ample room for animals depending on species. The slaughter law governs humane handling of the animal from unloading to actual slaughter.In comparison, in the US the concept of animals as property is reflected in three federal statutes: The Animal Welfare Act, which provides protection for laboratory, exhibition, and companion animals with many exclusions; the Twenty-Eight Hour Act of 1877, which allows livestock to be transported for 28 hours without food, water, or rest; and the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act for livestock except poultry or ritually slaughtered animals. Pets are exceptions to the idea that animals are little more than unfeeling machines. They are beginning to be looked upon as sentient beings deserving of a higher legal status by individual states, including New Mexico, whose anti-cruelty laws protect companion animals against the intentional infliction of pain, suffering, injury and death.
The EU is also taking the lead in the area of animal experimentation. A 2003 directive requires member countries to eliminate most animal testing for cosmetics in 2009, and all animal testing by 2013. In contrast, there is no US law proscribing animal testing of cosmetics, although many companies, including Almay, Avon, Merle Norman, Mary Kay and Revlon, have voluntarily eliminated animal testing.
Despite EU legislation that increasingly reflects the feeling that humans should not be the exploiters, but rather the stewards of their fellow animals, there is still much room for improvement. For example, the EU is dragging its feet on a ban on the importation of cat and dog fur from Asia. This is an area where the EU is behind the US, where dog and cat fur has been banned by Congress since 2002. To their credit, Denmark, France, Italy, Belgium and Greece have chosen to ban the fur within their borders.
Because EU countries can be granted exemptions from animal laws, and because they are not rigidly enforced but rather depend on cooperation, their effectiveness often hinges on the good faith of EU members. Another issue is that many non-EU Eastern European countries, who are struggling economically and politically, are still far from humane to their wild or domesticated animals. But the good news is that animal welfare groups in the former Soviet Union are working hard to improve the status of animals there.
Taken as a whole, European animal laws are setting the bar higher for the rest of the world to emulate. They point to a future when we will all treat our fellow animals with more dignity and respect.
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