French Birds, Spanish Cows, Danish Minks: The Fight For Animals’ Rights In Europe

Minks are seen at a farm in Gjol, northern Denmark on October 9, 2020. – Around 100.000 mink are to … [+]

On March 17, the EU Court of Justice banned a traditional French bird-hunting practice “likely to cause other than negligible damage to non-target species caught”. The week before, two ships transporting 2,600 cows docked after three months stranded in the Mediterranean. And, linked to the risk of spreading Covid, mink breeding was stopped in Denmark.

These stories show many things about us. One in particular is how far a utilitarian approach to other species can go and that the law is, like in all sectors, a work in progress – only partially an expression of our ethics. So what is the state of animals’ rights in the EU? I asked Reineke Hameleers, CEO of the Eurogroup for Animals.

“Despite the citizens’ opinions that animals should be much better protected, the EU and its Member states are still failing to address the massive animal welfare challenges we are facing,” she told me. “Billions of animals are suffering on farms, in laboratories, being traded as exotic or companion animals.”

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The article 13 of the Treaty on the functioning of the European Union recognizes animals as sentient beings. But this principle has not been implemented in actual legislation “and animals are treated as commodities, products and objects”, says Hameleers.

Now “hope is on the horizon” as the Commission committed to start revising the animal welfare legislation. That’s why the Eurogroup for Animals launched the No animal left behind campaign this year.

Together with 70 members across Europe, they are calling on the EU to protect every animal from neglect and cruelty, while promoting a happy life through various actions. For instance, bans on all long distance journeys of farmed animals.

There are many challenges ahead. The case of two ships from Spain struggling to find a buyer for the cattle, over fears of the animals being sick, provides a perfect example.

Article 11.1(b) of Regulation 1/2005 requires competent authorities to grant authorizations to transporters only if they provide contingency plans in the event of emergencies and the EU Court of Justice ruling (C-424/13) on live export requires watering, feeding and resting intervals. They both remained disregarded.

“That’s why we need a revision of the transport regulation, as it is planned in the framework of the Farm to Fork Strategy,” ays Hameleers. “Specifically on the two vessels crisis, we need the European Commission to launch an investigation and hold parties to account.”

Spanish authorities have already slaughtered the bulls from one of the two livestock ships, the Karim Allah. Now, the Elbeik, is in Cartagena with all the surviving animals still onboard and NGOs are calling on the Spanish authorities “to humanely relieve them from their sufferings as soon as possible”.

It becomes clear then that speaking about animals often means speaking about death. And over there all our ideas of right and wrong tremble.

According to Hameleers, the decision to ban the use of glue traps in birds’ hunting is “a great and necessary decision that finally clarifies that, if a practice is traditional, it is not a valid reason to allow it if it’s cruel”. Also, it sets an important precedent “because it defines that the absence of ‘satisfactory alternative solutions’ to the use of a method should be supported by the best relevant scientific knowledge.” For the same principle, mice traps could be banned.

The use of animals for luxuries, rather than food, can make contradictions even more appalling. In January the Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen cried, when she announced that minks had to be gassed to prevent infected animals from spreading a mutated version of SARS-CoV-2. It was for mink farmers whose “life’s work has been destroyed.”

The recent EFSA report states that all mink farms should be considered at risk for Covid. While many EU Member states in recent years have closed their mink farms and others have already suspended mink farming to protect public health, mink fur farms “represent a risk”.

The Eurogroup for Animals and the Fur Free Alliance urged the Commission to take a precautionary approach and suspend those activities across the EU. To date, 11 countries (including Italy, Norway, France and Ireland) have totally or partially banned or strictly regulated fur farming, sometimes with phasing-out periods.

“The breeding of animals for the purposes of fur production is opposed by many European citizens, who believe that it is unacceptable, unnecessary and immoral to keep and kill animals for the production of a luxury product for which there are many warm and humane alternatives.”

I am a reporter focused on the environment and EU politics. I am currently based in Brussels, where I work as a freelancer for ANSA, Forbes.com, The Beam magazine and the

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