Full Title Name:  Overview of International Comparative Animal Cruelty Laws

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Paige M. Tomaselli Place of Publication:  Michigan State University College of Law Publish Year:  2003 Primary Citation:  Animal Legal and Historical Center

Overview of the comparison between US animal cruelty laws and those in Europe. Specifically, laws of the US, EU, Germany, Norway and Switzerland are addressed. The comparison is based around companion animal and confinement farming laws, transportation and slaughter.


Companion Animals [Link To Fuller Discussion]

In the United States, there are three federal statutes governing animal welfare. These are the Animal Welfare Act , the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act and the Twenty-Eight Hour Act of 1877.   The Animal Welfare Act generally refers to animals used in scientific experiments and does not pertain to companion animals (i.e., pets) or animals raised for food. State anti-cruelty acts regulate the treatment of companion animals. The anti-cruelty acts protect against intentional infliction of pain, suffering, injury and death on animals. Some states have protections against animal fighting as well.  State anti-cruelty statutes as applied to companion animals often work to convict persons accused of animal abuse. A federal law on the treatment of companion animals may help prevent these abuses from happening in the first place through regulating who can own pets, sell pets and regulating spaying and neutering. In most states, pets are considered the property of their owners and are regulated as such. Colorado is an example of a state that has moved outside this trend, toward developing a higher legal status for companion animals. See , Colorado's Companion Animal Bill.    

The EU is a union of 15 European member countries. These countries have agreed to unite economically and politically. The EU creates regulations and directives. Regulations immediately become active law that the member states must incorporated into their own laws. Directives become active law at a pre-determined future date. In this way, member states have time to phase the new directive into current practice and phase out any practice that is to be banned. In the EU, there are several animal welfare treaties, each covering a different aspect of animal treatment. The treaties were created by the Council of Europe, an even larger intergovernmental body. The EU adopts these treaties and creates laws based on the premises in the treaties. 

In the EU, the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals governs the treatment of companion animals. The basic principles for animal welfare presented in this treaty are that nobody shall cause a pet unnecessary pain, suffering or distress. Additionally, no one shall abandon a pet animal. It gives the guidelines for who can own a pet and there is an entire section on trading, commercial breeding, and boarding and animal sanctuaries. This legislation is helpful because it takes preventative measures instead of just relying on redress when an animal has been abused. The treaty contains protective measures existing for the welfare of the animal, not just the owner of the animal.  

In Switzerland, Germany and Norway, the animal welfare statutes do not have special provisions for companion animals. The general provisions apply to companion animals. All three of these countries recognize that the protection of animal welfare is for the benefit of the animals, not just the humans who come in contact with the animals.   

Farm Animals

On the Farm [Link to Fuller Discussion]

In the US, the treatment of animals raised for food while on the farm is not regulated by a federal statute. Instead, it is left to the state anti-cruelty statutes to regulate. These statutes regulate only some animals on the farm because over half of the states a have exemptions for common husbandry practices. This means that in states where common husbandry practices are exempted, animals raised for food are basically without protection. These animals may be systematically abused without redress. Even in states where farm animals are not exempted from the anti-cruelty statutes, it is often difficult to get a case into court. The state district attorney is responsible for bringing animal cruelty cases. The district attorney often times has so many human cases to prosecute that animal abuse cases never reach the courtroom.  Federal protection for farm animals would be one step that would ensure that treatment of food animals on the farm is consistent throughout the US. Another would be recognition of food animals as sentient beings (i.e., having the ability to feel pain), rather than machines.  

The system in the EU is broader than that in the US, as several laws are in place regulating the treatment of animals raised for food while on the farm. This is important because these laws create consistent treatment of farm animals throughout all the EU member states. The European Convention for the Protection of Animals Kept for Farming Purposes is the parent legislation to the many farming directives recently enacted in the EU. The Convention applies to animals bred for the production of food, wool skin or fur or for other farming purposes. The EU has adopted several laws phasing out and banning practices that are common husbandry practices in the US. These practices include battery cages for egg laying hens, veal crates for veal calves and gestation crates for pregnant sows. These progressive steps are helping to form consistent animal husbandry practices across the EU and Europe. This can again be attributed to the recognition of a moral status in animals in Europe. Many pieces of legislation state the need to protect animals from unnecessary suffering. The desire to protect animals is evidenced in the legislation in place banning inhumane farming practices.  

In Switzerland and Norway, laws are also in place regulating the treatment of food animals on the farm. German animal welfare law regulated the treatment of farm animals as well. Germany is a member of the EU and its laws must conform to those of the EU, but can provide added protection. Added protection is seen through the premise of the German Animal Welfare Act. This progressive statement recognizes that humans are responsible for their fellow creatures, shifting the trend from humans as dominators to humans as stewards.  


Transport [Link To Fuller Discussion]

The laws in the EU on International transportation of animals are much more progressive than those in the US. For example, in the US, interstate travel of animals is regulated by the Twenty-Eight Hour Law as mentioned above. This law states that animals traveling by rail or road cannot travel for more than 28 hours (36 hours for sheep) without rest, water and food.  In the EU, there are much tighter restriction on the length of time an animal can travel without rest, 8 hours for standard vehicles and longer for vehicles equipped with watering facilities, extra room and other animal needs. There is a proposal which would change this to an across the board 9 hours for all species, regardless of the vehicle.  

Neither the U.S. Federal nor state laws on the transportation of animals contain provisions outlining the treatment of animals while in route. There are no guidelines as to how animals should be kept, no regulation of the temperature, heat or ventilation animals should be allowed, and no species specific guidelines. EU law contains species specific guidelines for amount or room, type of compartment and length of journey. Switzerland has specific guidelines allowing that compartments are large enough to allow animals to stand normally. In the US, "horses are transported in double-decker cattle trucks with ceiling so low that they injure their heads and backs." 

Slaughter [Link To Fuller Discussion]

In the US, the slaughter of farm animals is regulated by the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act . This law regulates the slaughtering of livestock to prevent needless suffering and promotes improvement in slaughtering techniques. It contains an exemption for ritual slaughter and does not apply to the slaughter of poultry. There is a complete set of regulations pertaining to the humane slaughter of livestock which specify the treatment of animals at the slaughterhouse before and during slaughter. 

In the EU, The European Convention for the Protection of Animals for Slaughter has been adopted to govern the slaughter of animals. The treaty covers all aspects of slaughtering from unloading to slaughter. 

Germany, Switzerland and Norway all have sections specifically focused on slaughter in their animal welfare legislation. 

Comparative Analysis  

The main component to the shift in Europe toward more progressive animal welfare laws is the recognition of moral status in animals. Animals are seen to have inherent value. No longer are animals seen as having value only as property. The recognition of an animal's ability to feel pain has made a huge difference in the animal welfare laws in Europe. Laws exist to minimize unnecessary suffering for the benefit of animals as well as humans. In the US, on the other hand, animals are still seen as property. This is reflected in the regulations concerning animal welfare. When viewed as machines, animal welfare regulations are minimal and enforcement becomes nearly non-existent. This may be due to the conflict of eating an animal or using an animal in research. If it is recognized that the animals we use for these purposes are living, breathing sentient beings, using the animals becomes a moral struggle. As machines, there is no moral status and therefore no conflict. Companion animals are the first in the US to be recognized as having a moral status greater than that of property. This has helped create a greater legal status. Hopefully, this trend will spread through the fifty states and broaden its reach from companion animals to other classes of animals such as farm animals and research animals. Additionally, maybe the ideas being born in Europe today will filter into the thoughts and minds of Americans tomorrow.

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