This article provides an overview of the current laws of Norway for the protection of animals.
[Editor's note: this article should be considered historical as it was written before the 2010 amendments to the Animal Welfare Act]
By Live Kleveland Karlsrud, Legal Advisor, The Norwegian Animal Welfare Alliance http://www.dyrevern.no/english/articles_in_english/animal_welfare_in_norway
Animal law is developing
Right today; wrong tomorrow. In the light of time, law mirrors moral fallacies, gaps in science, and prejudices. Nora questioned society´s right to discriminate women, while in our time, people are questioning society´s right to discriminate non-humans. [ii] Animal law is developing, driven by science, animal rights theory and human empathy.
This article aims at giving an overview of contemporary Norwegian animal law and the changes it is undergoing at the moment. The emphasis is on animal welfare issues that are thought to be of interest to animal advocates outside Norway.
The legal status of animals
Norway is not a member of the European Community. Unlike animals in the European Community, Norwegian animals have not yet obtained legal status as ”sentient beings”.
In contemporary Norwegian law, animals only have legal status as property or nature. However, in 2003, the Parliament decided that the revised Animal Welfare Act must be based on the assumption that every animal has an intrinsic value.
It is not yet sure if this change will have a practical impact on the legal protection of animals. Even if animals are regarded as individuals with intrinsic value, they will still be property or nature, and therefore still subjects to economic exploitation. It is also probable that animals´ intrinsic value will be esteemed low, so that their interests may be lawfully compromised in conflicts with humans.
Nevertheless, a legally recognized intrinsic value is a step forward in the direction of personal autonomy for animals.
Legal rights and standing
In Norway, it is unclear whether or not an animal possesses legal rights, as the Animal Welfare Act leaves the question open. But since property or nature cannot hold rights, it has been assumed that the Animal Welfare Act protects animals because of human interests in animal welfare. [ix]
If that is right, the Animal Welfare Act does not exist because of animals, but because of humans. This assumption is found ridiculous by many, and in 2003 the Parliament decided that animals´ rights must be defined precisely. It is still unsure if this means that animals will be protected only indirectly, in the interest of humans, or independently, as a result of legally recognized personal interests.
The Animal Welfare Act and international treaties
Because the interests of animals are not covered by the Norwegian Constitution, acts passed by the Parliament are the highest sources of law in the field of animal welfare.
The Act of Animal Welfare is the most central document, and covers living mammals, birds, fish, frogs, toads, salamanders and shellfish. It gives general provisions about the breeding, keeping and killing of animals. Violations of the act are criminalized, and the authorities are instructed to control that the given conditions are fulfilled.
The Animal Welfare Act guarantees animals a minimum of welfare. The main principle of the act is that it is forbidden to cause animals ”unnecessary suffering”. According to comments in the preparatory works of the Animal Welfare Act, animal suffering may be ”necessary” out of economical, ethical, practical or many other reasons. [xi] , [xii]
The general provisions of the Animal Welfare Act have proved difficult to apply. Not only are the provisions subjective, they may also be compromised when animal suffering is found ”necessary” to humans.
In 1999 the Animal Welfare Act was challenged by an animal welfare organisation, which claimed that fur farming was not in compliance with the act´s space requirements and general principles. The Court of Appeal found that fur farming was unethical, but still not illegal. [xiii]
The Animal Welfare Act does not mention the protection of animal lives. Neither in animal experimentation, nor in farming or the keeping of pets, are there any restrictions on an owner´s right to kill an animal. In contrast, the lives of wild animals are protected by the Act of Wildlife: It is forbidden to kill a wild animal, except in certain periods when hunting and trapping is allowed. Wild ”pest animals” and fish are exempted from the close seasons, and may be killed all year long.
Due to a bilateral treaty between Norway and the European Community, most of the EC animal law is binding also for Norway. Since the EC animal law is mostly given in the form of minimum directives, it is possible to establish stricter rules internally in every country. Norway has taken the opportunity to do so in a few instances.
Norway is a member of the Council of Europe, and has ratified the Council of Europe´s conventions on animal welfare. Many of Norway´s regulations on farm animal welfare are based on the recommendations of the Council of Europe. However, not all the recommendations have been implemented.
Control systems and reactions on infringements
Several separate control authorities are charged with controlling compliance with the Animal Welfare Act:
In the field of vivisection, the Norwegian Animal Research Authority is responsible of inspecting all animal experimentation facilities, and of approving or rejecting applications about animal experimentation. [xiv] However, the Authority may delegate authority to a person in charge of animal experimentation at every research facility. The consequence is that a vast majority of all vivisection applications in Norway are considered by a single person, employed at the very research facility where the animal experiment is planned.
Pets and farm animals are controlled by local Animal Welfare Committees, elected by the regional Food Safety Authorites. [xv] The committees consist of ordinary people, usually 3-5 persons, and are assisted by a veterinary from the Food Safety Authority. The system with local Animal Welfare Committees has been strongly criticized for being ineffective and unprofessional. Despite suggestions from the government, the Parliament has decided to keep the Animal Welfare Committees.
The Food Safety Authority controls slaughterhouses, animal transports, and to some extent farms, pet shops, zoos etc.
Reactions on infringements
Physical persons and companies breaking the Animal Welfare Act may be fined. Physical persons may also be sentenced to prison for up to 3 years. [xvi] The sentences usually end up with smaller fines or a fine in combination with suspended prison sentence.
By violating the Animal Welfare Act seriously or repeatedly, one can lose the right to keep, own, handle, use, trade, hunt and catch animals. [xvii] One of the rights or all may be lost, for a fixed period of time or forever. This reaction is not a penalty; it is merely applied to prevent animal abuse in the future. The reaction may be applied to both physical persons and companies, but as far as I am aware it has never been applied to companies. People usually lose the right to keep or own animals only when they are found guilty of severe neglect causing death and long time suffering to a whole group of animals.
In one example from 1989 a man had neglected his 60 sheep over a long period of time. Approximately 30% of the sheep had starved to death. Dead animals were not removed, and sick animals were not treated adequately. The man was sentenced to 60 days of suspended prison and lost the right to keep, own, handle, use or trade livestock in a period of 5 years. [xviii]
If instructions issued by the Food Safety Authority are not followed, the Food Safety Authority may impose an ongoing fine to be paid every day the instructions are not followed. [xix] This rule was introduced in 2004, and it is too early to say if it will be used effectively.
In cases of animal abuse, the police or the local Animal Welfare Committees can confiscate animals from their keeper with immediate effect. [xx] The local Animal Welfare Committees can also decide that an animal is to be removed from it´s owner or keeper permanently and rehomed, sold or euthanised. [xxi] Statistics about the actual use of these reactions do not exist.
If animal research facilities violate the Animal Welfare Act, the Norwegian Animal Research Authority may withdraw their permission to perform animal experiments. [xxii] The Authority may also stop illegal animal experiments and have the participating animals euthanised. [xxiii] So far the Authority has been very reluctant in it´s use of these reactions, despite regular violations.
Animals in farming
Poultry, geese and ducks
The Animal Welfare Act decides that debeaking is forbidden in Norway. [xxiv] The keeping of hens, broiler chickens and turkey is covered by a regulation passed in 2001. [xxv] The standards generally codify standard practice.
The production of goose and duck meat is minor in Norway. A general regulation covering the keeping of farm animals is under preparation and will include geese and ducks. Production of fois gras (fatty liver) does not take place, and is generally considered to be in conflict with general principles of the Animal Welfare Act.
A new regulation about the keeping of pigs was passed in 2003. The regulation
decides that castration of piglets without anaesthetics is forbidden. Castration will be totally banned in 2009. Tail cutting is generally forbidden, but may be performed on medical grounds by a vet and with anaesthetics and pain relief. It is forbidden to use nose rings on pigs. Tooth clipping is forbidden, but tooth grinding is allowed. [xxvi]
A new regulation about the keeping of cattle was passed in 2004. It is forbidden to build new cubicle stalls in Norway. All use of cubicle stalls will be banned from 2024. [xxviii] There has never been a tradition for eating veal meat in Norway, and veal crates are not allowed.
Sheep and goats
A regulation about the keeping of sheep and goats is underway. It is expected that the regulation will set down minimum space allowances and other general provisions.
Norway farms mink and fox, and fur farming is covered by a regulation generally codifying standard practice in the industry. [xxix] In 2003 the Parliament gave the fur farming industry a period of 10 years to improve animal welfare. If the outlined conditions are not met, the government has stated that fur farming may be banned. However, the proposed conditions are quite vague: Breeding must produce animals less afraid of humans, and the cages must be slightly bigger than today.
Transport and slaughter of birds and mammals
Norway is bound by the EC transport directive, which is not a minimum directive and consequently imposes the same rules all over Europe. [xxx] Slaughtering is covered by a regulation based on EC legislation. [xxxi]
Even though fish are included in the Animal Welfare Act, there are few provisions particularly aimed at protecting fish. The current Animal Welfare Act was established before fish farming became an intensive industry in Norway, and due to the lack of provisions this industry has developed with little, if any, attention to fish welfare.
In 2003 the Parliament decided that regulations about fish welfare in intensive farming should be elaborated. At the moment regulations about fish welfare are underway, covering the keeping of farmed fish, the slaughter of farmed fish and the transportation of farmed fish.
Animals in education and experimentation
The Animal Welfare Act decides that vivisection in science is legal. [xxxii] The condition is that the purpose of the vivisection is recognized by the Animal Welfare Act. As the legal purposes are defined very broadly, there are few barriers.
The use of vivisection in education, on the other hand, is forbidden unless it is ”necessary”. [xxxiii] Dissections and other use of animals in vitro are not covered by the act. Consequently, animals are killed without restrictions to end up in dissection classes.
Animal experimentation is also covered by the Regulation about Animal Experimentation. [xxxiv] The regulation was passed in 1996, and does not incorporate the 3Rs (Replacement, Reduction, Refinement) aiming at reducing the number of animal experiments, the number of animals in every performed experiment, and reducing the animal´s pain and discomfort. In 2003 the Parliament decided that all animal experimentation in Norway must be based on these principles, and advised the Ministry of Agriculture to evaluate the Regulation about Animal Experimentation.
The Norwegian Animal Research Authority, which controls all animal experimentation in Norway, passes a number of principal statements every year. Being issued by an expert organ, these statements are considered relevant to legal interpretation. For example,in 2002 the Authority adopted a statement that in practice forbids the use of living animals in production of monoclonal antibodies, and a statement concluding that the term “pain” in animal experimentation includes both physical and mental pain, stress and fear and risk of pain. [xxxv]
Animals in entertainment
The Animal Welfare Act establishes a general ban on all animal exhibitions, such as zoos and circuses. [xxxvi] However, animals may be exposed on special permission, and in practice there are approximately 20 zoos of some size in Norway, and 3-8 touring circuses every summer.
Exhibitions of breeding livestock or pets are excluded from the general exhibition ban, so competitions with pedigree dogs and cats and expositions of breeding livestock are arranged regularly. Also fish are excluded from the ban, and aquariums or fish ponds are often used as decorations in shopping centres and restaurants.
Traditionally, wild captured animals and large carnivores like bears and lions have not been accepted in circuses by Norwegian authorities. The most usual animals in Norwegian circuses are elephants and other exotic ruminants, besides horses and dogs. Most of the animals exposed in zoos are from northern fauna. Usually they are bred in the zoo or bought from other zoos.
In 2003 the Parliament decided to introduce a list defining which exotic species are to be legally kept in circuses and zoos, implicating that all species not mentioned will be forbidden to import. This work has not yet started, but is expected to codify the general practice already in place. There is, however, much uncertainty about elephants and marine mammals.
The Parliament also decided that the zoo´s excess breeding of animals must stop. Consequently, the zoos must ensure that they are able to keep or rehome all the animals they breed – or stop the breeding.
Pets and animals in sports
The keeping of pets
The Animal Welfare Act does not give special provisions about how pets are going to be kept. Instead, the Food Safety Authority is establishing official recommendations about the keeping of a variety of species: Dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, gerbils, chinchillas, rats, mice, birds and fish.
The recommendations will not be imposing legal duties on the pet owners, but may become useful evidence in cases of neglect or animal abuse. E.g. the recommendation about parrots states that the birds should not be kept in cages but in large aviaries, and the recommendation about dogs states that dogs must not be trained by the use of anger or harassment.
Pet shops, sanctuaries and kennels
Trade in animals, including pet shops, professional kennels and sanctuaries requires authorization from the regional Food Safety Authority. There is a regulation imposing minimum standards for animal welfare in sanctuaries, but there are no similar rules for pet shops. [xxxvii]
Pet shops usually sell various species of rodents, birds and fish. Cats and dogs are only sold from individual breeders, even if it is not illegal to sell them from pet shops.
Reptiles, including turtles, are forbidden to import, sell and keep as pets in Norway. [xxxviii] However, keeping turtles is usually accepted on special permission. Exotic birds and fish are imported and sold in pet shops.
In 2003 the Parliament instructed the Ministry of Agriculture to introduce a list defining which exotic species that are legal, but still prohibiting reptiles.
There are no stray dogs in Norway, but an unknown number of stray cats. In 2003 the Parliament decided that all owned cats must be identity marked, but this requirement has not yet been enforced.
The Animal Welfare Act gives particular rules about dogs: It is forbidden to use electric collars when a dog is not actively being trained, it is forbidden to keep a dog continuously tied in a line shorter than ten metres, it is forbidden to castrate dogs (exceptions are made), and it is forbidden to surgically remove a dog´s vocal cords or parts of it´s tail or ears.
In 2003 the Parliament passed the Act about Dogs, aiming at reducing the problem with so-called dangerous dogs. [xxxix] Dogs who have injured people may be sentenced to death more easily than before. The act also gives the police permission to put suspected dogs in custody. A regulation warranted in the Act about Dogs forbids the import, breeding and keeping of certain dog breeds. [xl]
A regulation about the keeping of horses is under way. The regulation will cover all horses, but concentrate on housing rather than training methods.
Trapping and hunting are covered by regulations warranted in the Wildlife Act. Both small game and big game hunting are common ”sports” in Norway. A theoretical and practical 30 hour course followed by an exam is required for hunters and trappers. [xlii]
The welfare of wild-caught fish has not yet been discussed politically on a general level.
However, in 2003 the Parliament decided that ”catch and release” fishing for commercial purposes is going to be banned in Norway.
In 2004 the Food Safety Authority closed an establishment which offered public fishing on wild-caught fish placed in an enclosure. The Food Safety Authority argued that the fish were suffering unnecessarily. The Minister of Fisheries, on the other hand, said in a press release that new concepts were welcome in the fishing industry, and decided that the practice should be explicitly legalised and regulated immediately. [xliii]
Seals along the coast are hunted on similar conditions as big game hunting on terrestrial animals. Pelagic whales and seals are hunted by specialist hunters in dedicated hunting vessels every season. The Ministry of Fisheries set down quotas deciding how many animals may be killed every year. Sealing and whaling enjoys broad political support in Norway. [xliv]
Modern animal law is a new branch in the field of legal protection. In Norwegian law, animals are not yet recognized as individuals with personal interests in life and welfare. Many species and practices are covered by written law, but the rules often codify practice developed without attention to animal welfare. However, recent developments indicate an improved legal protection for animals in future.
[iii] For an English summary of the proposed changes, please see: http://www.dyrevernalliansen.org/english/enews2.php
[vii] For an English translation of the Animal Welfare Act, please see: http://dyrebeskyttelsen.no/english/law.shtml
[xxxv] The Norwegian Animal Research Authority, www.fdu.no