By Naomi Harland Smith
The morning session of the second day of the Third Animal Law, Ethics and Policy Conference was a decidedly international one, with speakers from Ukraine, India, the EU and the UK. The session opened with keynote speaker Marina Surkova of AZOU (Assocation of Animal Protection Organisations of Ukraine) who, via her interpreter Natalie, spoke to the current animal welfare landscape in Ukraine. The speaker was introduced by Mark Randell, a retired senior detective specialising in animal crime, who spoke of the importance of training police officers as to why animal crimes matter in society. He also testified to the inspirational nature of Marina’s work in Ukraine, the ultimate goal of which being the development of humanism towards animals.
Marina provided us with an interesting legal history of animal welfare before focusing on the new Law 2351. Adopted in August of this year following 5 years of negotiations between parliament and activists, this law is a big step forward for animals in Ukraine, including, among other provisions, the banning of euthanasia as a method of stray dog population control, stopping the giving of animals as prizes, forbidding the leaving of animals in overly hot or cold cars and the banning of foie gras (although, as Marina notes following a conference participant’s question, this covers solely production, not its import and consumption). Her work is not without opposition, as she tells us of the estimated 100,000 homeless animals that have been tragically euthanised in the last 10 years and the ongoing kick back from dog hunters, municipal workers, police and officials who are reluctant to investigate animal welfare contraventions.
Marina finished by noting that she is working to ensure animals are treated as living beings in law and to facilitate their transition from legal object to legal subject. Her next goal is to ban the exploitation of animals in circuses within the next three years. Marina added that improving enforcement and awareness-raising are the main goals of animal welfare activists in Ukraine, including the popularisation of compassionate treatment for animals in schools and educating society about the humane treatment of animals. She notes that this is a lengthy process, but one she is absolutely engaged in undertaking.
A similarly “nascent dialogue” between the general public and animal welfare associations was explored by Shreya Padukone, a research associate with the Animal Law Centre at the National Academy for Legal Studies and Research in India. Her presentation, aptly titled The True Cost of Eggs, detailed the current situation for laying hens in India, the world’s third largest producer of eggs. Her ultimate goal is to better the welfare of hens and the 16-week-old chicks that are brought into this industry. There are currently 392 billion laying hens in India, 80% of which are subjected to deplorable conditions, spending their 2-year life cycle in battery cages. Shreya talked warmly of the fascinating nature of hens, including their tendency to purr when scratched and their strong maternal instincts, as well as giving great importance to the ability of laying hens to be able to engage in natural behaviours such as dust-bathing, spreading their wings and perching.
Fundamentally, Shreya argued that battery cages simply don’t allow these animals to express themselves naturally and are therefore in violation of India’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (1960). Photos flashed across the screen of several shocking examples of violations including the disposal of ‘spent’ hens next to live hens, unsanitary conditions and the cramped nature of the cages. These images were difficult to see but provided a necessary glimpse into the reality of farmed chickens. Shreya noted that there is a mutually beneficial link between animal welfare, public health and environmental sustainability. As such, she sees a way forward for poultry welfare via incorporating the poultry industry into One Health policies and other sustainable goals, as well as implementing regular monitoring of daily records and ensuring compliance at laying hen facilities (she made a point of calling them facilities rather than farms, drawing attention to their mechanistic nature.) Shreya emphasised the importance of raising consumer awareness about industry practices, the legality of battery cages and adequate labelling of products. The speaker also noted that the issue in India is due to underregulation and underenforcement rather than to a lack of legislation.
Alice di Concetto, a lecturer in European animal law at the Sorbonne Law School, founder of and consultant at the European Institute for Animal Law & Policy, echoed Shreya’s last point. She notes that the EU boasts of a comprehensive legislative framework when it comes to the welfare of farm animals but calls into question whether these measures have truly contributed to animal welfare. Her presentation explored the current EU legislative framework, its shortcomings and limitations, gaps in enforcement and changes she foresees in the next few years. Alice also considered extra-legislative measures that could help the plight of the farm animal in EU law, such as advocating for a plant-based diet, re-establishing capping on milk and ending subsidies which support animal production. Following an informative grounding on the basis of EU farm animal welfare legislation, Alice lamented the fact that although ostensibly based in international conventions for the protection of animals from systemic abuse on factory farms, EU law is in fact potentially accommodating to industrial farm animal production and therefore undermines animal welfare.
Echoing Marina’s earlier comments on foie gras, Alice explained that although EU member states retain the authority to implement their own national policies they remain unable to ban the import and sale of lower welfare standard products from other member states. On the positive side, Alice noted that the EU is committed to revising some of its animal welfare laws and commented on the reforms which came about due to the Green Deal, in which she achieved the inclusion of additional provisions in favour of farm animal welfare. Alice discussed the implementation of a voluntary label on animal products, the dangers of which she expounded upon in more detail following a question from the audience. She explained that, unless mandatory, this move could have a counter-productive effect, simply adding to the proliferation of existing labels and misleading consumers into buying products that barely meet the bare minimum of standards for animal welfare.
Answering another interesting question from an attendee on the banning of fur farming, Alice made a sobering remark that, ultimately, human interests take precedence over animal interests, as member states are only shutting down fur farms when they become COVID-19 clusters. Alice noted that the subject of the conference was a timely one given that the EU is in the process of revising animal welfare legislation and the UK is in the process of developing its own, as she comments, “the same discussions are happening on both sides of the Channel.”
One could perhaps view Dr Steven McCulloch’s presentation as a reply from the other side of the Channel exploring animal welfare reforms in the UK post-Brexit. Steven is a senior lecturer in Human-Animal Studies at Winchester University and a qualified veterinary surgeon. His presentation was in itself a call-back to his 2019 A-Law talk which considered whether animals would vote for Brexit. Today, 18-months since the UK officially left the EU and 8 months since the end of the transition period, Steven gave attendees a tour of potential opportunities, threats and considered whether we are at a political “tipping point” for animal welfare. Having spent the best part of 2 years in lockdown or, at the very least, living with severe limitations on the way we live our day-to-day lives, Steven wonders if this has perhaps, hopefully, sensitised us “political animals” to the plight of animals who spend their entire lives in forced isolation. Steven reminded us of the fact that, post-Brexit, the UK adopted the majority of EU laws relating to animal welfare, with the exception of Article 13 which recognised animals as sentient beings. It is this omission that has led to the ongoing political and legal debates regarding animal sentience culminating in the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill which is currently at the report stage in the House of Lords.
Steven also spoke hopefully, but guardedly, about the substantial potential benefits of the Agricultural Act, but notes, “the proof is in the pudding,” as it remains to be seen how the Act will actually operate. On the topic of an Australia-UK or US-UK trade deal, Steven mentioned a potentially dangerous undermining effect to any progress the UK may make for animal welfare. Reminding us of Marina and Alice’s earlier concerns, he explained how the import of lower welfare standard animal products, permitted in this instance in the spirit of reciprocity in attracting new trade deals, would effectively cancel out, or at best weaken, any independent UK laws improving animal welfare, he confirms, “the negative impact will swamp the positives.” In spite of this caution, the overall message of Steven’s talk on the future of animal welfare in the UK was a hopeful one. Although the UK enjoyed greater political influence within the EU pre-Brexit, there is huge potential for the UK to have a major impact on animal welfare outside the EU, to set precedent in this area and negotiate trade deals which keep the animal at the forefront of discussions.
A summary of just one of four sessions at A-Law’s Third Animal Law, Ethics and Policy Conference, it is clear how richly informative and diverse the panels were. We are extremely grateful to our speakers who contributed vital viewpoints on the way forward for animal welfare, not just in the UK, but around the globe, as well as engaged attendees who asked fascinating questions on a range of topics, from the future of the use of animals in circuses to the consideration of species-specific legislation to protect insects, crustaceans and cephalopods. A huge ‘thank you’ on behalf of animals everywhere!