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Animal-rights activists crack the whip

Piglets could be among the beneficiaries of tighter rules on animal rights

(swissinfo.ch)

Parliament is to resume the debate this week on amending animal-rights legislation as supporters of change step up the pressure.

They say government proposals to tighten regulations are toothless and will fail to put Switzerland back among the most animal-friendly states in Europe.

The draft law, presented by the cabinet in 2002, is aimed at better implementing current regulations and improving information for the general public.

This includes training for those who keep animals as well as setting common monitoring standards.

"We don’t want rules that look good on paper, but have no impact because they can’t be put into practice," said Marcel Falk, spokesman for the Federal Veterinary Office.

Falk says many dog owners have gaps in their knowledge of the law.

"It’s legal to keep dogs on chains but people often don’t know that they have to take these animals off the chain at least once a day," Falk told swissinfo.

But Switzerland’s largest animal-welfare group, Swiss Animal Protection (SAP), is not satisfied with the government bill. It has put forward its own proposals and hopes to force a nationwide vote.

Toothless

"The government wanted purely cosmetic amendments," said SAP managing director Hansueli Huber.

He says the current law is outdated after 25 years and does not take into account the changed attitude towards animals. He believes it is also geared too much in favour of business interests.

"But many people consider animals as their companions. They think even farm animals deserve a decent life," Huber told swissinfo.

Animal-welfare activists say the government bill falls short of providing protection for wild animals in zoos and circuses as well as the country’s seven million pets.

They argue that Switzerland’s farming sector could benefit from stricter regulations.

"Our farmers can only survive if they distinguish themselves from cheap imports by aiming for high quality products and that means animal-friendly methods," said Huber.

He says a ban on battery hens, which was introduced in 1991, has not led to a drop in sales of eggs although Swiss eggs cost three times more than imported products.

The animal-rights lobby wants to put Switzerland back among the most animal-friendly countries in Europe.

"Switzerland was a pioneer with its ban on factory farming, but now other countries have caught up. Sweden is more restrictive with animal experiments and Austria has introduced a special ombudsman for animals," Huber said.

High standards

The federal authorities acknowledge that Switzerland has lost ground.

"The fact is that some other countries have caught up in certain areas, but overall animal-rights standards in Switzerland are very high," said Veterinary Office spokesman Marcel Falk.

He added that parliament had already begun tightening the government bill in line with demands by animal-welfare activists.

The Senate last October approved a ban on the castration of pigs without anaesthetic, and the House of Representatives appears poised to adopt further restrictions when it discusses animal rights during the current summer session.

But a more far-reaching people’s initiative, which includes a ban on importing kosher and halal meat, is unlikely to win approval in parliament.

"Some of the demands would be difficult to implement for practical reasons because they are in breach of international agreements.

"Other proposals - such as mandatory advocates for animals - go against our federalist system which gives cantons a large degree of autonomy. Until now it has been up to individual cantons whether they want advocates," said Falk.

Animal-rights supporters for their part are optimistic that their campaign will convince parliamentarians to show empathy to animals.

Huber does not rule out withdrawing the people’s initiative before it comes to a nationwide vote if politicians show they are prepared to meet the main demands of the animal-rights lobby.

In 1992 Swiss voters threw out a proposal by the SAP to ban animal experiments.

swissinfo, Urs Geiser

In brief

Parliament is to resume debate on animal rights, and will discuss a draft law submitted by the cabinet.

It is aimed at ensuring existing rules are implemented, improving information to the general public, and offering better training to those who keep animals.

The country’s largest animal-welfare group, Swiss Animal Protection (SAP), has responded by launching its own proposals aimed at further tightening legislation, including import bans, restrictions on experiments with animals and introducing animal advocates.

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Key facts

There are an estimated 17 million animals, including more than 7 million pets, in Switzerland.
1.3 million cats and 400,000 dogs live in Swiss households.
About 475,000 animals are used annually for scientific purposes.
About 63,000 animals have undergone genetic engineering.

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