Xavier Niel, the founder of internet firm Free; Marc Simoncini, founder of European dating site Meetic; and Jacques-Antoine Granjon (founder of online retailer Veepee, formerly Vente-Privee.com) are some of the richest and most influential business founders in France.
They have each come out in support of holding a citizens referendum - référendum d'initiative partagée (RIP) - on the issue to fight against animal mistreatment in a bid to raise awareness of the campaign.
Mr Simonici said: “We can no longer live with animal suffering. The whole of society is turning to recognise this awareness.”
Xavier Niel, fondateur de Free et une des plus grosses fortunes de France, s'engage pour un référendum d'initiative partagée contre la maltraitance animale. C'est le journaliste @hugoclement qui est à l'origine du projet #ReferendumAnimaux pic.twitter.com/0AktD5vzNL— Pauline Blanc (@PolineBLANC) July 2, 2020
Their support comes after journalist Hugo Clément launched the idea yesterday (July 2), inviting the three business leaders to the cause, in collaboration with 23 animal welfare associations.
The campaign has called for a referendum to propose laws to end practices such as battery farming, intensive farming, keeping farm animals in cages, breeding animals for fur, fox hunting, traditional hunting, shows and circuses using wild animals, and automatic animal experimentation.
The referendum website - including options to add your support - can be seen here (warning: contains graphic images of animal testing and wild animals in cages).
Pour une avancée de la cause animale, nous voulons un référendum !— La Ligue Des Animaux (@LigueDesAnimaux) July 2, 2020
Vous pouvez d'ores et déjà prendre part à cette initiative en vous inscrivant https://t.co/pFlHU4PrZu#ReferendumAnimaux pic.twitter.com/IeKTEWxeX0
The support from the three men has been hailed as one of the first times that such high-profile business leaders have spoken out on the issue.
Journalist Mr Clément said: “We started with a view from Xavier, Marc and Jean-Antoine that civilised society, entrepreneurs and associations should take this subject and push it through to implementation. Its strength lies in the fact that it is supported by people from across all political leanings.”
Referendum rules and support
A RIP allows the government to put a question to the public in a referendum vote, but in order to go ahead, it must be supported by 185 MPs and 10% of voters registered on the electoral roll (equivalent to 4.7 million people).
The campaign is now seeking to gather the necessary support.
En 2020, la France autorise encore qu'on élève des animaux pour leur fourrure...— Corinne Vignon (@corinnevignon) July 2, 2020
Je trouve inadmissible que l'on fasse souffrir des animaux pour le simple plaisir de porter un manteau de luxe.
Notre #PPLAnimaux va l'interdire ! pic.twitter.com/ZNqjYletBr
Brigitte Gothière, president of animal welfare association L214, described the campaign as “historic”.
She told the Agence France-Presse: “Enlisting support from ‘prestigious’ and high-profile people may help show MPs that the citizens’ lobby is also on the side of the animals, and they need to take it into account.”
Christophe Marie, spokesperson for animal welfare group la Fondation Bardot is also pleased with the support from high-profile business leaders.
He said: “Animal welfare organisations have been working alone for years. [But] this fight is no longer marginalised or ridiculed by politicians.”
Animal rights is a cause that has gathered support among the French public in recent years.
In 2018, a survey by pollster Ifop for L214 found that 80% believed that MPs should vote positively on amendments that would help support animal welfare.
The same poll found that 77% of the public would even like France to add respect for animal rights and protection to its Constitution - as countries such as Germany and Switzerland have already done.
Rising awareness and investigations
The campaign comes as a new French report has found that the number of people being investigated and punished for animal abandonment and mistreatment has been on the rise in France for several years.
The report from national agency ONDRP (Observatoire National de la Délinquance et des Réponses Pénales) said that between 2016 and 2018, 4,401 people had been questioned in connection with an investigation into animal abandonment or mistreatment.
This number rose by 29% over the period, it said. Specifically, 943 people were investigated for abandonment issues, and 3,458 for mistreatment of a domestic animal.
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.
The high numbers of abandonment have led multiple animal charities to warn that shelters can easily become overwhelmed with cats and dogs that are left in rubbish bins, or tied to fences at the side of the road.
Marie-Laure Caron, manager at an animal shelter with la Société Protectrice des Animaux (SPA) in the Yvelines department (Île-de-France), said: “We are seeing more and more reports from people who are condemning mistreatment, so I think that people are becoming more and more aware of animal protection.”
French law states that it is very clearly “forbidden to abuse domestic animals, or tame or keep captive wild animals”, says government legal website Service-Public.fr.
This not only includes inflicting deliberate injury, but also practices such as depriving an animal of food or water, choosing not to treat an illness or injury, and keeping it in a space that is too small and/or causes suffering.
And while the report suggests that more people are being investigated, the numbers are still well below the figures of abandonment as a whole, which could be even greater than those officially reported.
Investigation numbers remain low
The ONDRP said: “Between 2016 and 2018, 62 SPA shelters rescued 26,375 abandoned animals.”
It added: “There are no official figures on the number of shelters in France. Moreover, each shelter varies enormously in its capacity. It is currently impossible to know the exact number of animals taken in and thus abandoned in France.”
Yet, the ONDRP said that investigations into cruelty were rising slowly, but surely.
It said: “Between 2007 and 2017, the number of judgements rose, from 70 to 110, a rise of 57%. Over this period, 32% of people convicted of domestic animal cruelty were fined; 23% had an alternative measure issued. 16% were given prison sentences.”
The same report said that 58% of those punished were men, rising to 80% for animal mistreatment specifically.
It also said that most animal mistreatment happens in summer, with a third of those taking place in rural areas of the country.
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