Animal rights groups hit back as MPs attend bullfight

The ministers were photographed at the Bayonne event by journalist Pierre Sabathié, who posted about it on Twitter

Animal rights groups have hit back and reignited a debate over the legality of bullfighting in France after two ministers were seen attending a bullfight in the south of the country.

The groups said the attendance showed “indecency”, after Jacqueline Gourault, minister of territorial cohesion; and Didier Guillaume, minister for agriculture, were photographed on the front rows of a bullfight, alongside mayor of Bayonne, Jean-René Etchegaray.

The photo was published on Twitter by a journalist from local news source Sud-Ouest, and comes after Mr Guillaume had allegedly previously pledged to improve animal protection laws.

Animal rights group the Bardot foundation said the move showed the ministers had “no limits to [their] indecency”.

In a further article, the foundation said: “A few weeks ago, the minister for agriculture, Didier Guillaume, announced to us that he was going to take ‘unprecedented’ measures in France for animal protection.

“This is indeed ‘unprecedented’, and we are really scraping the barrel here. Didier Guillaume is the French minister for agriculture, not the official for barbaric games.”

Other animal protection groups, including 30 Million d’Amis, L214, and One Voice, also condemned the ministers’ actions.

30 Million d’Amis posted the photo and wrote: “When two ministers of the Republic warn about animal suffering and animal mistreatment with their presence at a Bayonne bullfight. Stop bullfighting! Seven in 10 French people are in favour of a ban!”

L214 simply posted the photo with the caption: “The French minister in charge of animal welfare at the Bayonne bullfight. No comment.”

One Voice said: “With ministers like this, this “tradition” will never stop. Bullfighting massacres bulls. Calves are killed by teenagers who psyche is trampled on. Our investigation into a bullfighting school has revealed such horror.”

It then added a link to its research.

Bullfighting in France: Legal questions

Technically, bullfighting is banned in France, under the civil code, since February 2015. It states: “Animals are sensitive, living beings. Animals are subject to laws that protect them.”

The penal code article 521-1 states that anyone “who, publicly or not, exerts serious abuse, or commits an act of cruelty towards a domestic, captive or trained animal” can be punished by up to two years in prison and a fine of €30,000.

Yet, a cultural exception to this law is widely made in regions of France in which bullfighting has been considered a traditional, long-time practice.

The penal code, article R654-1, states: “The requirements of the present article are not applicable to bullfighting matches when a local, uninterrupted tradition may be invoked.”

No official, exhaustive list of departments in which bullfighting is legal exists, but in the year 2000, the Court of Appeal in Toulouse stated: “It cannot be disputed that in the south of France...there is a strong bullfighting tradition which is reflected in the organisation of complete bullfighting shows on a regular basis.”

It said that the tradition existed “between the country of Arles and the Basque country, between the garrigue and the Mediterranean, between the Pyrenees and the Garonne, in Provence, Languedoc, Catalonia, Gascony, Landes and the Basque Country”.

Former MP for Landes, Alain Vidalies, who was pro-bullfighting, previously said: “We do not want to impose bullfighting on anyone, but we want people to let us live. I am open to other people, but I ask that they respect our identity too.”

Yet, Didier Bonnet, president of the anti-bullfighting group la Comité Radicalement Anti-corrida Europe (CRAC), said: “Bullfighting poses a legal problem. If you do a bullfight in the Gard, everyone applauds. If you do a bullfight in Paris, the organisers go to prison.”

In 2018, a survey by Ifop for the Brigitte Bardot foundation found that 74% of people in France were opposed to bullfighting that leads to the death of the bulls.

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