8th August 2019 is international cat day. This celebration has been created in 2002 by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) to honor cats and create more awareness for felines. Cats which are held as pets in general have a good life, and are usually well cared for. And in some cases, pets live a more luxurious life than some humans. Sadly, there are also cats and (other pets) that suffer from neglect, mistreatment, lack of love, lack of food and  lack of proper healthcare. Many ill treated, abandoned cats and other pets end up on the street or in an animal shelter. Or worse.

Fortunately, animal welfare legal norms have been incorporated in many domestic legal systems and international regulations in order to protect the wellbeing of cats and other animals. For example, constitutional animal protection provisions can be found in the constitutional texts of Switzerland, India, Brazil, Slovenia, Germany, Luxembourg, Austria and Egypt. In Europe, legal norms and regulations to protect the welfare and treatment of cats, and other animals have been created mainly since the 1980s both on a domestic level and through the European Union and the Council of Europe. Animal welfare law is mostly concerned with three overlapping elements: the animal's health and functioning, its affective state and its natural living. Animal welfare deals with five groups of animals: pets, livestock, laboratory animals, wild animals and sports animals.

Over the centuries the awareness of animal suffering and the need for safeguarding animal well-being have grown. There are various reasons for a growing global public opinion in favor of the amelioration of animal well-being and animal welfare legislation varying from commercial motives to food safety, compassion and ethical reasons. Over time many anti cruelty and animal welfare norms and regulations have been incorporated into legal systems. However,  several legal scholars are of the opinion that a 'coherent'  legal animal protection regime does not yet exist.

Although a global awareness of a need for  animal welfare regulation has grown over the years, this has not yet lead to a full grown set of internationally recognized clear legal norms; this field of law is still developing. Currently, there are several international law instruments and EU law instruments dealing with animal welfare. They are concerned with biological diversity, endangered species (CITES), wild animals, farm animals, animal experimentation and habitat protection.

Animal welfare is a complex field of law with many different facets, such as ethics, economical and commercial motives, (bio)ethics, culture, religion and politics. Scholars, international organizations such as the WTO and the EU, and governments agree about the need for better animal welfare regulation.

Commercial and economic interests have a significant impact on animal well-being and animal welfare regulations. Practices of whaling, foie gras, the use of tiger parts for medicinal purposes and animal experimentation persist because of commercial and economic interests. And think of megafarms, 'hog hotels'. Therefore, many scholars are of the opinion that in order for animal welfare law to be effective, regulations need to be global in structure and scope. As long as animal welfare regulation is not universally applicable and only some countries have high animal welfare standards, while others have not, this poses a problem for animal well-being. Agricultural companies or megafarms could be relocated to other countries where animal welfare regulation is absent or not as strictly adhered to as in countries with relatively high animal welfare standards.

Anne Peters, Director of the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law advises that further legal research concerning animal welfare should also include research from a comparative perspective (both on a national (horizontal) level and a transnational (vertical) level) in order to improve animal welfare legislation. Professor Peters regards it an open question whether animal welfare could be considered as a 'universal value'. Some legal scholars debate whether the incorporated animal welfare codifications could be regarded a 'general principle of law', a formal source of law, such as mentioned in Article 38 paragraph c of the Statute of the International Court of Justice.

An example of a global effort to improve animal welfare regulation and the treatment of animals is the Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare. The campaign has been led by the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA). Currently, the text is still under discussion and the Declaration has not yet been adopted but the campaign has been backed by more than 2.5 million people and has the suppport of over 46 countries. Another attempt on a global level is the Declaration of Animal Rights. And on August 23 of 2018, a framework convention was drafted at the UN General Assembly. This UN Convention on Animal Health and Protection (UNCAHP) focuses on the protection of all non-human animals, their welfare and their health. The objective of this Convention is: “A world where the welfare of animals is respected, promoted and advanced, in ways that complement the pursuit of animal health, human well-being, socio-economic development and environmental sustainability”.  The Convention is not legally binding.

These relatively recent global animal welfare conventions and declarations could serve as blueprints and sources of inspiration for states which have not yet implemented proper animal welfare legislation. It can be conluded that over the past decade, promising developments have taken place. Global animal welfare regulation is a work in progress but these legal developments give hope for an improvement of animal welfare throughout the world.

If you would like to know more about developments in the field of (global) animal welfare law, please take a look at the selected bibliography and the links below.

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