Germany adopts a pro-animal constitutional amendment

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August, 2002:
 
BONN–The Bundesrat, the upper house of the German
legislature, on June 21 ratified an amendment to the national Basic
Law which adds the words “and animals” to a phrase establishing
environmental rights.
As amended, the phrase now reads, “The state takes
responsibility for protecting the natural foundations of life and
animals in the interest of future generations.”


Kate Connolly, Berlin correspondent for The Guardian, of
Britain, compared the amendment to a 1992 Swiss constitutional
amendment which redefined animals as “beings” rather than objects.
“It means that the rights of animals will in theory be viewed
more stringently in every area of life,” Connolly wrote. “Previous
[animal protection] laws, recognized in 11 of the 16 German states,
governed only the conditions in which animals are held. The new
legislation extends coverage to every type of animal, from household
pets to those held in zoos.”
“We hope this will bring a whole range of changes,” German
Animal Protection League president Wolfgang Apel told Connolly.
But Connolly noted that German minister for agriculture and
consumer affairs Renate Kuenast, who pushed the amendment into
effect, “has admitted that the law is unlikely to bring radical
changes overnight.”
Agence France-Presse reported that the amended phrase makes
Germany “the first country in the European Union to give animals
constitutional protection.”
After the Bundestag, the lower house of the German
legislature, approved the amendment 543-19 in May, Associated Press
issued a similar but erroneous report, asserting–with the Bundesrat
vote still pending– that, “Germany has become the first European
Union country to guarantee animal rights in its constitution.”
Associated Press speculated that the amendment “could curtail
experimentation by the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries.”
German minister for agriculture and consumer affairs Renate
Kuenast explained, as Agence France-Presse paraphrased, that “The
measure could lead to new legislation limiting the testing on animals
of products like cosmetics and mild pain relievers. But Kuenast
stressed,” AFP said, “that human rights would still take precedence
over those of animals.”
The wording assures the supremacy of human interests by
stipulating that the reason for protecting animals is “in the
interest of future generations.”
As AFP summarized, “Conservative opposition parties for
years fought efforts by environmentalists to introduce a
constitutional amendment on animal rights, saying it would tie
Germany’s hands in research and lead to a brain drain. But a widely
criticized ruling by the constitutional court in January,
authorizing the traditional Islamic [and Jewish] slaughter of animals
without use of anesthetic, lent new momentum to the animal rights
movement.
“The court ruled,” AFP continued, “that religious freedoms
were explicitly protected under the Basic Law, while animal rights
were not. The new bill will, however, still give religious and
scientific freedom precedence over animal rights.”
In strictest interpretation, the amendment protects species
rather than individual animals. Kuenast, however, is a blunt
critic of institutional animal exploitation. She is among the senior
Green Party office holders, a rare Green free market advocate, the
first female agriculture minister in German history, and the third
most popular political figure in Germany, according to recent polls.
Chancellor Gerhard Schroder put Kuenast in charge of
agriculture in early 2001 to fulfill his election promise to place
consumers’ interest in getting healthy food ahead of the agribusiness
interest in profits.
Kuenast took office denouncing factory farming, successfully
introduced a ban on keeping hens in battery cages after 2007, and
recently set about dismantling production quotas and subsidies that
encourage factory-style dairy production.
Kuenast indicated that she believes the Basic Law amendment
will help her efforts to limit the duration of time that animals en
route to slaughter may be kept aboard trucks.

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