Brussels, 8 September 2023 - GAIA welcomes the long-awaited draft Animal Welfare Code of law, which has been approved by the Brussels government at the initiative of Brussels Animal Welfare Minister Bernard Clerfayt. Next step: the Animal Welfare Code of Law will have to be adopted by parliament before becoming law. GAIA is delighted to see that the approved draft Code meets several of their expectations. However, GAIA deplores some major shortcomings: no ban on slaughter without stunning unlike Flanders and Wallonia and no ban on fur and foie gras trade. As far as animal experimentation is concerned, it is hard to see how the relevant provisions will significantly reduce the use of laboratory animals.
The draft Brussels Animal Welfare Code of law compiles regulations already in force, such as the ban on home slaughter of sheep, goats, pigs and farmed game (in addition to the mandatory sterilization of cats, the ban on fur farming, the ban on force-feeding for the production of foie gras and the ban on live pony carousels; animals are recognized as sentient living beings, endowed with individuality and dignity, and therefore enjoy special protection, etc.). The approved draft also contains a series of new provisions, which constitute undeniable advances. Several provisions will have to be implemented by the Brussels government once the code comes into force.
The draft Code includes several new provisions, which animal rights organization GAIA had been requesting for many years:
- A ban on importing puppies and kittens. Only domestic breeding is permitted. Following the example of Wallonia, the Brussels Region will put an end to the import of (sick) puppies from Eastern Europe.
- A ban on the sale of live animals on markets. This is good news for the many rabbits, chickens, ducks and sheep that are still sold on markets today. Being displayed and sold on markets is a very stressful experience for the animals and causes them a great deal of suffering, not to mention the health risks and often inappropriate conditions in which they are transported.
- A ban on keeping animals in circuses. The ban on wild animals in circuses is now extended to all animals. The draft Code also prohibits zoos in the Brussels Region.
- A ban on electric collars and slip chains.
- A requirement to provide natural or artificial shelter for animals.
- The introduction of a permit to keep animals. To obtain this permit, any resident of the Brussels Region will have to follow an approved training course or pass a test.
- The standstill or non- regression principle: as in the Flemish Animal Welfare Code of law, this principle stipulates that no new legislative measure or regulation on animal welfare can constitute a step backwards.
- A ban on keeping amphibians and wild animals. The aim of the Brussels government is to put an end to the harmful effects that keeping these animals as pets have on their well-being.
- Lobsters are recognized as sentient beings and must now be stunned before being killed (cruel killing methods such as cooking lobsters alive without stunning or cutting them in half will no longer be permitted). Lobsters can only be kept in water tanks (not on ice).
- A ban on male chick culling by crushing or gassing.
- A ban on stunning pigs with carbon dioxide.
- The compulsory installation of video surveillance at the slaughterhouse (Anderlecht) to monitor compliance with animal welfare regulations and identify infringements.
- Tougher penalties: prison sentences of up to 5 years, financial penalties of up to 500,000 euros and possible closure of the establishment where the offences were committed. In the event of an offence, a person may be banned from keeping animals in the future.
Main flaw: the ban on slaughter without stunning is not mentioned in the draft.
The draft does not include a ban on slaughter without stunning, without exception on religious grounds. For GAIA, this is the most serious flaw of the new code of law. There is a scientific consensus that this method of slaughter does cause avoidable suffering that simply cannot be denied.
GAIA Director Ann de Greef explains:
“The fact that this code of law does not ban slaughter without stunning constitutes its main flaw. Over a year ago, several political parties (PS, Ecolo, les Engagés and PTB/PVDA) strongly opposed the bill to ban the practice, arguing that it should not be "targeted at certain communities". However, both the European Court of Justice and the Belgian Constitutional Court had ruled that the ban on slaughter without stunning does not violate freedom of religion, is not discriminatory, and is proportional and necessary to achieve the animal-welfare-related objective. Moreover, these highest courts had consequently validated the Flemish and Walloon bans on slaughter without stunning. The real reasoning behind the negative vote clearly had to do with electoral opportunism. At the time, the bill was rejected by a narrow majority of four votes. Ecolo, les Engagés, the PTB/PVDA and the PS declared that a general ban without exception for religious customs should be part of a broader package of measures, including animal transport. The bill to be considered by Parliament meets this very requirement. Majority and opposition MPs will have another chance to put their money where their mouth is when considering this animal welfare bill. GAIA is calling on Brussels MPs to table an amendment that would put an end to slaughter without stunning in the Brussels-Capital Region."
On top of this, the code does not prohibit the sale of fur, foie gras, glue traps or round fishbowls (although there is now a legal basis for banning these products).
Animal experimentation: some rather ineffective and insufficient provisions
Finally, there will be no ban on cruel and unnecessary animal testing, such as for the production of household products or the development of tobacco products. The provisions on animal testing remain insufficient to effectively reduce the use of laboratory animals. Overall, these legal provisions offer little prospect of real progress and transparency, and mainly lead to a status quo.
The Brussels Parliament
Despite the advances it proposes, the code adopted by the Brussels government can still be improved. It still needs to be examined and voted by Parliament before taking effect.