Alex Taylor: “What rights do animals have exactly? Who defends those rights and what happens to people who break the law? Are we all guilty of indifference to suffering if we eat meat, wear leather or go to the zoo? To answer your questions on I-talk today our guest is Michel Vandenbosch, the President of GAIA. What is GAIA?”
Michel Vandenbosch: “Global Action in the Interest of Animals is an animal rights association set up in Belgium, but we’re also part of the Eurogroup for Animals.”
Alex Taylor: “Which is a pan-European movement. Your questions straight away with a first question by webcam on I-talk.”
Thibaut, Belgium: “I’m Thibaut from Brussels. I have a question on intensive chicken farming in battery cages. I want to know if it is still legal and if there’s any legislation about it.”
Alex Taylor: “Well that’s a really European question because EU legislation has recently changed.”
Michel Vandenbosch: “Absolutely, but that’s for laying hens. So conventional battery cages have been illegal since January 1 this year but so-called enriched cages…”
Alex Taylor: “What does that mean?”
Michel Vandenbosch: “They are cages which are a tiy bit bigger and have a nesting box but to get to there the hens have to queue. And there’s some stuff to peck but nothing for a chicken to scratch in. What we want to see is legislation banning all cage systems so that we have systems with no cages.”
Alex Taylor: “But that would cost too much, that’s what they say.”
Michel Vandenbosch: “No, no, not true. We have already persuaded big companies like Unilever for example, and Calve Mayonnaise, and in Belgium there are also lots of supermarkets which have stopped using battery eggs in their processed foods.”
Alex Taylor: “But that’s Belgium, not all over Europe. But it’s at least a step forward, isn’t it?”
Michel Vandenbosch: “In Great Britain too, and it’s true that you have to start somewhere.”
Alex Taylor: “Another question for Michel Vandenbosch.”
Gaspard, Belgium: “Hello I am Gaspard from Brussels. If I know my neighbour mistreats an animal, can I report him to the police, can he be punished by law?”
Alex Taylor: “Is there any European legislation on maltreating animals?
Michel Vandenbosch: “No, not European. This is dealt with at Member State level, but in Belgium and in all the other countries of the EU there is legislation.”
Alex Taylor: “So you can go to the police and say my neighbour mistreats his dog?”
Michel Vandenbosch: “Absolutely, but you have to have proof of course.”
Alex Taylor: “What proof?”
Michel Vandenbosch: “What proof? Well the police can investigate on the basis of a statement, but it isn’t always easy. It’s not the same everywhere. In Belgium for example the maximum penalty is 6 months in prison but in France it’s more severe, up to 2 years. But at the level of mistreatment, since the Lisbon treaty, animals have been considered by the EU as sensitive beings and when drawing up legislation in say transport, and agriculture – their status as sensitive beings has to be taken into account.”
Alex Taylor: “Another question on animal rights.”
Manolo, Spain: “Hello, my name is Manolo, from Spain. My question is – is there legislation at the European level on welfare of animals in zoos? If so, how can we protect these animals?
Alex Taylor: “That’s a bit more complicated, because it’s in the interest of zoos to treat their animals well.”
Michel Vandenbosch: “So they say… but there is a European Directive setting out the broad principles of animal treatment.”
Alex taylor: “So animals are well treated in European zoos?”
Michel Vandenbosch: “Just having the legislation doesn’t mean that zoo animals are all well treated. The best zoos, which have evolved, no longer keep wild animals in cages. Increasingly they try to imitate the animals’ natural environment and that’s a lot better. Having said that, above all in Eastern Europe, there are still enormous problems where animals are badly treated and zoos taken no notice of their needs for well-being.”
Alex Taylor: “Another question by webcam.”
Maria, Spain: “Hello, I am Maria from Spain. I am a member of the animal protection association “La Guarda”. And I want to ask what real concrete action your group is taking against bullfighting in Europe?”
Alex Taylor: “It’s a very Spanish question, but Spanish attitudes are changing, like in Catalonia.
Michel Vandenbosch: “Absolutely, Catalonia has forbidden bullfights. They started by banning them in Barcelona. So it’s clear and I think it’s very positive that the Spanish themselves have started to get toether and work towards banning bullfighting. It’s a good thing and they are helped and supported by associations like GAIA and others of course, to help these people and help the Spanish to put an end for once and for all to the shameful display they call bullfighting.”
Alex Taylor: “Ok, another question on animal rights.”
Felix, Belgium: “Hello, I am called Felix and I’m from Brussels. Is there legislation against the fur industry in Europe?
Alex Taylor: “Where are we on the question of fur? I imagine you’re against it?”
Michel Vandenbosch: “Of course. Great Britain banned the breeding of animals for fur in 2003 and Austria banned it in 2005. Here in Belgium we’re lobbying to have it banned too.”
Alex Taylor: “And ban fur coats perhaps? And other fur products too?”
Michel Vandenbosch: “Absolutely.”
Alex Taylor: “Is that realistic?”
Michel Vandenbosch: “It’s just a question of time but it’s clear that the majority – I’m not talking about Scandinavian countries – but a large majority…”
Alex Taylor: “Why are they special?”
Michel Vandenbosch: “Scandinavian countries breed the most for fur – which makes the fight very difficult there. But having said that, our colleagues in Finland especially, are trying to lead the way and get some legislation passed. But once again, that will be dealt with at a Member State level and we will continue to lobby so that breeding animals for fur is ended for once and for all.”
Alex Taylor: “Another question, here on I-talk.”
Solène, Belgium: “Solène Leroy, from Belgium. Do politicians listen to animal rights groups like GAIA?”
Alex Taylor: “Do you lobby at European level?
Michel Vandenbosch: “Absolutely, as part of the Eurogroup for Animals we do a lot of lobbying, and awareness raising amongst MEPs…”
Alex Taylor: “Which ones? What do you do?”
Michel Vandenbosch: “All right I’ll take an example. The EU banned trading in seal products in 2009. Belgium was the first Member State to do it in 2007 and the EU followed suit. This ban would never have happened without the efforts of European associations which worked together and fought together to get this ban. It doesn’t reach as far as Canada but since 2009 it has saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of seals from a horribly cruel death.”
Alex Taylor: “And now we’ll take a last question from I-talk.”
Jean, France: “Hello, my name is Jean and I’m French, frm Brittany. My question to GAIA is: How much is GAIA involved with a European network of other animal associations: the SPA in France, and others in the UK, Spain, Portugal… To create a network and lobby European Institutions that much harder.”
Alex Taylor: “Does such a network exist?”
Michel Vandenbosch: “Absolutely and this gentleman is completely right. We have to work together. We absolutely have to become stronger and stronger together.
Alex Taylor: “Michel Vandenbosch thank you. You can find a list of forthcoming subjects on I-talk on the Euronews website and you can ask all the questions you like, and I’ll do my best to get you the right answers.”
See you soon, from the European Parliament, here in Brussels.