France approves tough new laws targeting animal cruelty, banning wild animal entertainments

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French actress and animal rights activist Brigitte Bardot welcomed a vote by lawmakers on Thursday to end the practice of wild animals such as tigers, lions or bears being used in live circus shows. Although the bill skirts the contentious issues of hunting and bull fighting, it provides tougher punishment for cruelty to pets.

Lawmakers in the Senate voted overwhelmingly in favour of the wide-ranging animal rights legislation with 332 for, one against and 10 abstentions.

This means performances of wild animals in circuses will be prohibited in two years and owning them outlawed in seven years, an issue that has been under debate since 2020.

The law, once signed by President Emmanuel Macron, will also ban live dolphin shows in the next five years and immediately end mink farming, meaning the country's last operator will close.

Macron's centrist Republic on the Move (LREM) party called the legislation "a historic step in the animal rights combat".

Major advance

Circus owners denounced it, while some environmentalists said it did not go far enough.

The foundation of France's most famous animal advocate, veteran actress Brigitte Bardot, welcomed "a major advance for the animal rights cause in France".

As well as the measures targeting circuses, the new law will raise the maximum penalty for mistreating animals to up to five years in prison and a fine of €75,000. It will also tighten restrictions on the sale of pets.

Displaying and selling puppies and kittens from glass cases in animal shops will be banned from 1 January 2024.

"Animals are neither toys nor consumer products," the French minister for agriculture Juilien Denormandie said.

One in two French people own a pet, but each year some 100,000 animals are abandoned.

Tougher penalties

In order to prevent hasty sales of pets, new owners will need to sign a document acknowledging their responsibilities.

Intentionally killing a pet will be punishable by law, rather than just a fine. Those who have already been convicted of animal cruelty will be added to a list and banned from owning a pet again.

"The treatment of animals is neither a nature-loving city-goer's obsession, not is it a passing phase, but a subject which a growing number of French people are concerned with, and it has become political," Loïc Dombreval, the LREM co-sponsor of the law said.

He conceded that other controversial issues had not been included within the scope of the legislation, which won cross-party support in both houses of parliament.

"There will inevitably come a day when... we will debate sensitive issues such as hunting, such as bull-fighting, or some animal-rearing practices," said the lawmaker, who is also a veterinarian.

Cultural practices

Environmentalists had called for measures to improve the conditions inside industrialised animal farms, which will require "a change in our agricultural model", Senator Daniel Salmon said on Thursday.

Issues such as hunting and bull-fighting are especially sensitive because they are staunchly defended by supporters in rural areas as long-standing cultural practices.

Farms that make foie gras pate in France -- which requires the force-feeding of birds such as geese and ducks to artificially bloat their livers -- have also long been targeted by campaigners both in the country and abroad.

Appeal

The 120 circus owners in France are likely to protest against the restrictions placed on their livelihoods and have warned that some animals might end up abandoned.

"It's an arbitrary law because there are not mistreated animals in our circuses," William Kerwich, head of the circus animal trainers' union, told AFP.

He said there would be a reaction from his members on Monday, and a legal appeal.

The new legislation also bans the use of wild animals in television shows, nightclubs and private parties.

Polls show that a vast majority of French people support the law, and dozens of cities and towns around the country have already banned travelling circuses that use animals.

The changes will bring France into step with more than 20 European countries that have either banned or heavily restricted the use of animals for entertainment.

(with AFP)

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