Hélène Thouy will not be the first animal rights candidate to run in a French presidential election, having failed to secure the 500 signatures needed in order to be listed in April’s first round ballot.
Ms Thouy, a 38-year-old animal-rights lawyer who leads the Parti Animaliste, has gained 124 sponsors so far, but the deadline for public officials to register their parrainages (signatures) falls today (March 4) at 18:00.
Unless she receives a flurry of signatures in the next few hours, she will finish 376 signatures short.
Ms Thouy campaigns for the abolition of hunting and intensive farming, calling for the use of animal products to be halved over five years and crafting 100 proposals centred around animal welfare, encompassing education, health, agriculture, law, and the economy.
A poll carried out by research firm Ifop credited her with between 0.5 and 2% of the vote, in line with her party’s result at the 2019 EU election, where it gained 2.2% of the vote (500,000 voters).
However, Ms Thouy has faced a barrage of criticism from hunters and fallen short of the 300 signatures she said she was promised. She has attributed this shortfall to the pressures placed on mayors by hunting industry lobbyists.
French law lags behind that of other countries in terms of animal rights and welfare, Ms Thouy and several animal-rights activists told The Connexion, taking the UK and the US as leading examples in the field.
“We are happy to have raised awareness of animal welfare issues,” Ms Thouy said, adding that she knew the campaign would have been difficult in any case as the election was being dominated by issues surrounding immigration.
Caught in a paradox
Ms Thouy has often been invited to speak on television and radio shows following reports of animal abuse or hunting accidents, including the recent death of a 25-year-old hiker who was hit by a stray bullet believed to have been shot by a 17-year-old hunter.
One of Ms Thouy’s campaign proposals involved creating an animal rights charter within the French constitution and a dedicated ministry in charge of animal protection.
Ms Thouy said she became aware of animal cruelty while growing up on a farm near an abattoir, from which she said she could hear animals screaming.
This convinced her to become a vegetarian at the age of seven.
She argues that the country is caught in a paradox, with a large proportion of the population favouring a move towards greater animal protection, and a strong resistance from public authorities on the other.
On her campaign website, Ms Thouy highlighted eight campaign proposals backed – according to opinion polls – by at least 70% of French people, indicating that her ideas are resonating with the electorate.
A lawyer herself, Ms Thouy launched her political party in October 2016 because she wanted to raise awareness of animal rights issues in the political sphere, after seeing cases she brought left at an impasse by French law.
“If we had given the people the choice to legislate for animal welfare, we would have moved forward quicker,” said Ms Thouy.
‘Animal welfare should be taught early within schools’
Ms Thouy said there is still a lot to be done in terms of animal rights.
French law has recognised animals as 'êtres-vivants doués de sensibilité’, meaning they are sensitive living creatures, since January 28, 2015. Before this date they had always been classed as an item of personal property.
Animal cruelty is now punished by up to five years of jail-time and €75,000-fine.
The Assemblée nationale passed a law on November 18, 2021 that will introduce a gradual ban on the use of animals in circuses and dolphinariums.
A ban on the sale of cats and dogs on classified ad websites and in pet shops will also begin on January 1, 2024.
30 Millions d’Amis, one of France’s biggest animal-rights associations, told The Connexion this law was ‘insufficient’, adding it was in favour of a ban on the sale of all animals – including rabbits and rodents – on classified ad websites and in pet shops.
Ms Thouy pointed out the lack of legislation on abuses toward livestock, hunted, aquatic and wild animals.
She would support a ban on ‘corridas’, bullfights which are common in southern France and Spain, and on fox and stag hunting, two activities she qualified as “barbaric.”
Those involved with these practices argue that they are an important aspect of France’s cultural heritage.
Ms Thouy also said animal welfare should be taught early within schools in an effort to raise awareness of the issue.
The Société protectrice des animaux (SPA), one of France’s leading animal protection associations, stated last January that it has around 7,000 animals waiting to be adopted across 62 shelters, a sharp increase compared to previous years.
30 Millions d’Amis said the number resulted from “impulse buying” from owners who fell in love with animals they found “cute” but abandoned once they had grown up and needed more attention.
One of Ms Thouy’s campaign symbols shows a fox trapped within an hourglass with the lower part of its body being sucked into the funnel like grains of sand, an allegory which suggests that time is running out for animals.
Associations and animal-rights activists have held up the English-speaking world as an example for French legislation on animal welfare.
30 Million d’Amis refers to California, the first state to have banned the sale of animal farming for pet shops on January 1, 2019, and the UK’s Lucy’s law, which requires owners to buy pets from local breeders or centres.
“There is a strong opposition between France and the UK in terms of the adoption of anti-speciesism ideas,” said Jérôme Michalon, a French animal sociologist, adding France was 40 years behind English-speaking countries when addressing animal rights.
Anti-speciesism is a school of thought putting humans and other living-beings on an equal footing and thus requiring all to benefit from the same legal treatment.
Mr Michalon said France’s animal rights movement took off in the beginning of the 2010s, with the first video reports from French animal rights organisation L214. However, in the UK the movement dates back to the 1970s.
Ms Thouy has defended several animal rights associations over the last 10, including L214.
Mr Michalon took the People for the Ethical Animal Treatment’s non-governmental organisation, the Animal Liberation Front and philosopher Peter Singer as examples of movements having opened British people’s eyes to issues surrounding animal welfare.
“The relationship with food is less emotive in the UK,” said Ms Thouy, opposing it to France’s “irrational relationship” where “a good meal is a meal with meat.”
She said France has built a culture that “prides itself on animal cruelty” referring, for example, to foie gras, while the UK was more open to various forms of meat-free meals and diets.
Ms Thouy will now look ahead to the legislative elections in June. Some 320 candidates will be running for her Parti animaliste, including comedian Laurent Baffie, and she hopes eventually to have candidates in 500 out of the 577 French districts.
“There is still a long fight ahead of us,” said Ms Thouy.