Systems, Structures & Democracy
Updated December 2014
Government structures set up to deal with animal protection matters are a great indicator of the political importance of animal protection in the country in question. They can also greatly influence the strength with which animal protection matters are developed and pursued. The level of a government department’s involvement with animal protection can vary greatly. Key considerations on systems and structures would include: where the animal protection remit is sited in government, how this is staffed and organized, and the roles and responsibilities of competent authorities and involved parties (including official bodies, enforcement authorities, animal professionals, trade and industry, non-governmental organizations, consumer groups, the public and animal welfare committees). An exploration of the current landscape of such involvement can be found in the explanatory notes to World Animal Net’s Model Animal Welfare Act.
Did you know?
Former Minister Maneka Gandhi was instrumental to creating an Animal Welfare Ministry in India. The desire to create an independent animal welfare department was Ms. Gandhi’s first ambition when entering politics. She wanted to bring together all the animal-related inspection services in one branch of government that would answer to no other (possibly with conflicting objectives) and vigorously enforce the recommendations of the Indian Animal Welfare Board. Today in India, the Animal Welfare Division falls under the Ministry of Environment and Forests.
Government advisory committees can play a significant role in providing feedback and expert advice to government in animal protection matters. The role and scope can vary greatly from being a committee dealing with all aspects of animal protection (every subject area and both ethical and practical/enforcement issues - as in the Czech Republic) to a committee with more specific scope (such as an ethical committee concerned with biotechnology). The best arrangement will depend on the country's legislative and enforcement structure. However, if a country does decide to have just one advisory committee covering all areas of animal protection, then it is important that it is broken down into small sub-groups, each containing a wide range of expertise in the relevant subject area. Advisory committees should not merely consist of representatives from the 'Animal Use' industries. A proper balance between animal protection, animal use and neutral government and scientific representation is important.In some countries (and the EU) there can be too many committees involved with animal protection issues - leading to confusion, dissolution of effort and, in some cases, committees with insufficient expertise considering matters of animal ethics/welfare. Also, some general ethical committees may take a more 'humanist' approach and give low priority to animal protection matters. In general, a broad-ranging and powerful animal protection committee is preferable. The remit of such a committee could include:
- New issues of concern in/to the animal protection field
- Beneficial developments in/to the animal protection field
- New and relevant animal welfare science/research
- Problems with existing laws and enforcement
- New legislation or amendments needed
- Further research needed
- Further educational initiatives needed
- Relevant issues of 'openness of government'
Considerations of major interest to animal protection organizations include:
- Independence and influence (including ability to publish open reports - including minority reports)
- Representation (need for adequate animal protection representatives - of various opinions i.e. animal rights & animal welfare - and other relevant experts, such as veterinarians, animal behaviorists, ethicists, biologists, zoologists etc.). Appointments usually on personal basis.
- Access to all government information and statistics.
Within the European Union (EU), there have been moves to coordinate and exchange information between the various national animal protection committees.
Animal protection organizations should press for full and open consultation on all matters affecting - or likely to affect - animal protection. In particular:
- Full consultation of animal protection groups on same basis as industry
- Representation at all consultation meetings
- Written consultation - with results published (transparency)
Animal protection organizations should also press for full openness and 'transparency' in government processes. In particular:
- Access to all documents/reports
- Access to meetings and minutes
- Access to civil servants/legislators
Animal protection organizations should ensure that their government has satisfactory procedures in place to deal in a practical and foolproof manner with any animal protection matters. Do they, for example, have a system, for identifying any animal welfare implications arising from proposed new legislation or administrative actions? This is particularly important if your country has a constitutional obligation to protect animals. Without adequate procedures, the government may itself be in breach of the constitution!
In the environmental field, environmental impact is routinely assessed using procedural devices such as 'environmental impact assessments', designed to ensure that environmental implications are routinely considered by government legislators and administrators. Animal protection organizations could call for similar treatment - requiring an 'animal welfare impact assessment' - to ensure full consideration of the impact of proposed measures on animal welfare.