How to Use Animal Protection Legislation
Updated December 2014
Animal protection organizations can use animal protection legislation as a powerful tool in their work to protect animals.
Legislation is meant to reflect the moral consensus of the day. The law cannot be too far ahead of public consensus or it will not work. But forward-looking animal protection laws can set the tone for practical measures, and raise standards. Animal groups must press for the highest possible outcome under present conditions - they will certainly have many opponents trying to keep standards as low as possible! We are always fighting against powerful vested interests - often financial. Animal groups need good information, and clever tactics to achieve their goals (see Strategy and Lobbying below).
Legislation can be introduced to meet a number of aims, for example:
- Banning certain activities involving animals (e.g. by-laws to ban circuses on local council land)
- Prohibiting certain production methods (e.g. a ban on fur farming)
- Protecting domestic animals/wildlife (e.g. laws against hunting in protected areas, or for endangered/threatened species)
- Promoting animal welfare (e.g. by minimum standards/legal requirements)
- Preventing animal cruelty or minimizing animal suffering
- Protecting animal and public health (e.g. protection from 'dangerous wild animals' or prohibiting use of growth hormones)
- Encouraging responsibility amongst animal owners
Improvements for animals can be achieved through public education (for example, persuading consumers not to buy fur) and through legislation (for example, a law that bans fur farming). In most cases it will take a mixture of consumer campaigns and lobbying for legislation. Public consensus is the basis for improved legislation and unless public consensus is underlined by legislative change, we are in danger of experiencing 'regression' later.
The first question animal groups need to address is what they want to achieve. Then, based on this, they need to decide how - and indeed whether - to use animal protection law to achieve their aims. Strategy can involve the:
- Introduction of legislation
- Improvement of legislation
- Use of existing legislation
- Any combination of the above
Animal protection societies with limited resources need to focus for maximum effect. This could be by focusing on a key area that would have broad impact (such as the addition of animal protection to the constitution, or the creation of animal ethics committee to advise government). Alternatively, it could be a limited, but achievable, specific subject in their field (such as a ban on animal circuses in a town). In the latter case, achievement of the specific aim can be later broadened and applied to other subjects. Decisions on strategy should take account of:
- Internal Factors - The society's strengths and weaknesses - (unique) capabilities (e.g. staffing, availability of funds, contacts in government, access to legal expertise)
- External Factors - External opportunities and threats (e.g. seriousness of the problem, urgency, public support, opponents' strength)
Once overall strategic aims have been clarified, extensive research is needed before lobbying strategy can be formulated. Collect information and use models/experiences (including enforcement) at the earliest stage:
- Additional provisions and good national experiences in primary and secondary legislation.
- Look for existing international provisions (there are few covering animal protection, but where they exist, they provide strong lobbying tools to press the government to introduce/improve provisions)
- If in Europe, look for Council of Europe Provisions (CoE conventions and recommendations cover many areas, and although they are not legally binding, can provide good lobbying material). The CoE provisions may be useful for other countries too
- If in the EU, consider EU welfare legislation. This may be helpful.
Lobbying strategy is of major importance to the achievement of legislative goals. This should include:
- The overall aim of the lobby
- The targets of the lobby (President/Prime Minister, Ministers, Parliament, Political parties, Civil Servants [and if so, which departments/levels])
- Channels to be used (e.g. meetings, letters, petitions, Motions in Parliament, Questions in Parliament, initiation of Parliament enquiries etc.)
- Arguments/influences to be used (including accurate facts, use of opinion polls to show public support and bargaining [e.g. "we will support this if you do that"])
- Allies - forming alliances to give added weight to the lobby
The strategy should be planned meticulously, including timings. Supporting public campaigns should focus on key aspects. Publicize and campaign on any striking examples leading to inhumane treatment of animals. Individual cases often help to highlight wider problems. Do not be afraid to campaign. Displays of public and media support add weight to your lobby message.
There are a number of avenues that can be followed by animal groups seeking to press their countries to introduce new animal protection laws:
- Press for ratification of international agreements
- Press for inclusion of international agreements in national law
- (In Europe) Press for signature/ratification of Council of Europe animal welfare conventions, if not yet done so
- Press for text of Council of Europe conventions and recommendations to be included in national law
- Press for full implementation of EU animal welfare laws (for EU members or those seeking to join EU)
- Press for national animal protection laws, using good 'models'
- Press for good regional/state/local animal protection provisions, using good 'models'
In addition to international and regional obligations in the field of animal protection, there are various arguments that can be used in support of the introduction of animal protection provisions. These include:
- Altruistic: protection of animals for their own sakes, recognizing the intrinsic value of animal life (less common amongst government/legislators!)
- Moral/ethical: 'The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated' Gandhi
- International acceptance: As above, but playing on a country's desire for international acceptance and regard
- Democracy: Pressure to upheld democratic principles. The 'people want it'.
- Protecting country's fauna 'heritage': domestic animals/wildlife
- Humanistic/Social: Preventing animal cruelty because this can have adverse impact upon human values and actions (quoting evidence of the link between childhood cruelty to animals and later criminality)
- Public health: protecting animal and public health (including protection from 'dangerous animals')
- Ownership/Responsibility: Encouraging responsibility (and liability) amongst animal owners
- Economic: following changing consumer trends and competition abroad
It is important to understand the different factors that could provoke governments into action. Understanding of motivation is also important in planning and guarding against possible adverse impact. One practical example of this is that a government with the primary motivation of raising (tax) revenue may be prepared to agree to a scheme of dog registration and taxation - but may then seek to charge high dog taxes, introduce these too rapidly, and not put the taxes raised back into the stray control budget.
Animal protection societies have also successfully used legislation not primarily concerned with animal protection to help their cause - for example, causing the closure of substandard zoos or other premises where animals are kept using legislation designed to protect human health (such as environmental health, protection from 'dangerous wild animals' etc.). Knowledge of the law can be a powerful tool.
It is also possible for animal protection societies to influence the improvement of existing animal protection laws. The avenues that can be used and the government's possible motivations for change are almost the same as for the introduction of new legislation.
In this case, it is important to analyze existing provisions against international regional and relevant national models. Action should be prioritized in areas where practical animal protection problems occur through lack of adequate legislation or enforcement provisions. Campaigns to improve legislative provisions can be either specific - involving a particular problem in isolation - or broad/general. If a broad campaign involves an overhaul of existing animal protection legislation, it is important to work thoroughly and ensure the fullest possible coverage. Broad overhauls of animal protection legislation do not occur frequently, so any omissions may have to wait for some years (also consider that any standards of protection achieved will have to wait for some years before they can be improved - so aim high!).
Timing is also an important consideration. If, for example, you currently have a strong agrarian government (favoring farming interests) or a strong 'free market' government, this may not be the best time to seek changes to your animal protection law. You may even find that opening up existing legislation allows provisions to be weakened.
Many animal protection societies routinely use existing animal protection laws in their work. Some even work as part of the official enforcement system with their own inspectors. Others make unofficial checks, publicizing any shortfalls and adding pressure for change. All animal protection societies should be familiar with animal protection legislation affecting their own area of work, and should consider this as 'another tool in their armory' against animal cruelty and abuse.
Some animal protection societies use existing international or European obligations as a tool in their work. Compliance needs to be checked and cases of infringement well documented. Any breaches can be followed up with your own government and it may be possible to lodge a complaint to the relevant international or European body (for example, an individual or organization can lodge an official complaint in the case of non-compliance with EU law).
Societies can also study enforcement of animal protection laws in their country, and press for practical improvements where needed.
However, careful consideration should be given to animal protection societies taking on official enforcement duties (such as stray control work). The resources and commitment needed are often huge, and the price of failure high. There is also a danger of societies being drawn in to an official position, leaving them unable to campaign and lobby against government policies. Enforcement of the law is the responsibility of authorities. All too often they are pleased to abdicate their responsibilities and pass over the burden! If - after careful reflection - your society does decide to take part, ensure that you are well equipped to do the job, and that you will receive full financial compensation without having to compromise on your policies.
Consider lobbying for beneficial systems, structures and democratic processes - see Systems, Structures and Democracy.