Animal activists have asked the government to provide additional safeguards and guidelines in tandem with changes to the Animal Welfare Act that are set to come into force later this month.
Animal Welfare Commissioner Alison Bezzina had raised concerns that changes to the laws that regulate animal welfare, which have since been approved by parliament, could give rise to exploitation.
A group of NGOs and activists met the permanent secretary at the animal rights ministry on Thursday to outline their concerns about the law’s wording and gave proposals for clear safeguards to be adopted.
Issue of ‘for profit’ opens a pandora’s box of loopholes
The amendments to the law include provisions to change the definition of a circus as well as a clause that allows animals to be used as ‘props’ in artistic exhibitions, theatre performances and films.
Speaking to Times of Malta, activist Darryl Grima explained that activists’ primary concerns are about the updated definition of a circus.
The definition now is “any exhibition put on by exhibitors for-profit and viewed by the public for entertainment which offers amusement and display and where animals are made to perform tricks or manoeuvres, which do not reflect their natural behaviour or does not offer any educational value”.
The addition of the word “for profit” may give rise to situations where circus-like activities that involve animals are permissible if they are not put on for profit.
Activists want clear definitions
As holders of a zoo licence are exempt from the laws prohibiting a circus, activists consider this to be a major loophole that may give rise to exploitation, Grima said.
Additionally, the issue of ‘for profit’ opens a pandora’s box of loopholes that may allow animal circuses to be held if staged for charity, if the event results in a loss or if attendance to the circus is advertised for free while attendees sit for a meal or purchase other products, the activists say.
The groups are asking for a clearly defined set of guidelines around what activities can and cannot be held and for the
Veterinary and Phytosanitary Regulation Division (VRD) to have the appropriate resources to ensure compliance.
A system should be set up that allows certain activities, such as dog shows, rabbit shows and police horse shows, to be fast-tracked with an automatic permit but the criteria must be well defined and not allow for breaches, the groups proposed.
Activities involving animals should be carefully scrutinised
Any other type of activity involving animals should be carefully scrutinised by the VRD and have clear parameters of what sort of activity should be allowed, accompanied by the appropriate enforcement.
Additionally, the groups are proposing that, similar to planning applications, all permit requests to the VRD to put on shows or exhibitions that involve animals be made public, with the option for anybody to appeal the VRD’s final decision on whether the event can be held.
This, Grima said, would give both activists and the VRD the ability to attend the event and verify that it is not in breach of the law.
The proposals are being supported by the NGOs Animal Liberation Malta, Real Animal Rights, the Association for Abandoned Animals, Kitty Guardians for Strays, Vuċi għall-Annimali and other activists.
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