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France needs minister for animal welfare, say rights groups

Animal rights groups in France have accused the government of missing an opportunity to create a minister dedicated to animal welfare in a recent cabinet reshuffle.

A petition signed by over 100,000 people called on the government to create a separate ministry focused on protecting animals. However no such position was made in the latest reshuffle that took place over the weekend (July 25 - 26). 

"We are… disappointed that this reshuffle was not taken as an opportunity to set up a ministry for the status of animals,” Barbara Boyer, a spokesperson for animal rights group L214 Éthique et Animaux, told The Connexion

L214 Éthique et Animaux was set up in 2008 and pushes for the welfare of animals used for human consumption. It has gained attention in France for its graphic undercover films of abuses of farm animals. 

Another rights group, Paris Animaux Zoopolis, tweeted that the absence of a minister dedicated to the protection of animals was a “disgrace”. 

The cabinet reshuffle was finalised by newly-appointed Prime Minister Jean Castex.

Among the new appointments was Bérangère Abba, who became minister for biodiversity, which falls under the remit of the Ministry of Ecological Transition.

She tweeted out the appointment along with a description of the role which she said would cover “the preservation of life, the protection of nature and the environment”. 

Ms Boyer was doubtful that this position would cover the protection of animals.

“We do not yet know what her precise responsibilities will be, but theoretically she should not be in charge of cases concerning animals used in food production, used for entertainment or those kept in laboratories,” she said.  

Animal welfare is currently handled by different ministries in France but often falls under the scope of the Ministry of Agriculture. 

Ms Boyer said that it is now “essential” for animal welfare to have a ministry of its own in order to “limit conflicts of interest”.

“On this issue the government is out of step with the expectations of 71% of French people who are in favour of including animal protection in the title of a ministry,” she said, citing a 2018 survey by IFOP, an international polling and market research firm. 

Referendum for the animals

L214 Éthique et Animaux is one of more than 40 animal rights groups now attempting to organise a citizens referendum that could see the population given the chance to vote on six new laws designed to protect animals in France. 

The six proposals:

  1. Prohibit rearing in cages, hutches, stalls or boxes from January 1, 2025
  2. Immediately prohibit the construction of any new farm that does not offer animals access to the open air adapted to their needs and, as of January 1, 2040, farms that do not guarantee such access to the open air
  3. Prohibit the rearing of animals for the purpose of obtaining fur and the marketing of fur from January 1, 2025
  4. Immediately prohibit hunting by hounds, hunting underground and equivalent hunting practices
  5. Prohibit live shows using 'wild' animals within five years (this refers to animals such as lions and tigers that are not usually domesticated)
  6. Prohibit animal experimentation where an alternative research method exists

The referendum has already been supported by over 400,000 people, and, according to Ms Boyer, has been backed by 116 members of parliament.

If 185 MPs support the proposal, it can be submitted to the Constitutional Council, which will then have to validate it. Then it will be put to the public, where it would need to be backed by at least 4.7 million people before it can be put to a vote in parliament or put back to the people in the form of a referendum. 

“In spite of all the obstacles to overcome, we believe that we can gather the support of the French people around these six measures,” Ms Boyer said. 

Read more about the referendum campaign here

Animal cruelty in France

In June this year French newspaper Le Parisien revealed that, according to statistics taken by the national police, there were 9,504 offences related to acts of cruelty and mistreatment of animals in 2018 alone. 

These were mainly attacks on domestic animals, including "serious abuse", "deprivation of food, water or care" and "maintenance in a habitat or environment that may cause suffering", Le Parisien said. 

Abandonment of animals is a contentious topic in France.

A shock campaign last year from animal welfare charity 30 Millions d'Amis, revealed that the country has the highest number of abandoned domestic animals in Europe, at 100,000 per year (it also has the largest number of pets).

The high numbers of abandonment have led multiple animal charities to warn that shelters can easily become overwhelmed.

Read more about animal cruelty in France:

Marseille may ban circus animals after rhino video emerges

End animal cruelty and abandonment in France, says MP report

French business leaders support new animal welfare campaign

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