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Germany votes for animal rights

Germany has become the first European nation to vote to guarantee animal rights in its constitution. A majority of lawmakers in the Bundestag voted on Friday to add “and animals” to a clause that obliges the state to respect and protect the dignity of humans.

The main impact of the measure will be to restrict the use of animals in experiments. In the end 543 lawmakers in Germany’s lower house of parliament voted in favour of giving animals constitutional rights. Nineteen voted against it and 15 abstained.

The vote is expected to be approved by the Bundesrat upper house this summer. Article 20a of the German Basic Law will then read: “The state takes responsibility for protecting the natural foundations of life and animals in the interest of future generations.”

The issue had been keenly debated among German politicians for almost 10 years. Animals in Germany already are protected through legislation defining the conditions in which they can be held in captivity, but activists claimed it did not go far enough to control the use of animals in research.

With the new measure, the federal constitutional court will have to weigh animals’ rights against other entrenched rights, like those to conduct research or practice religion. This could translate bring tighter restrictions on the use of animals for testing cosmetics or non prescription drugs.

Consumer Affairs Minister Renate Kunast, a member of the environmentalist Greens party that has lobbied for many years to bring animal rights into the constitution, welcomed the change as ground breaking, but emphasised it would not diminish human rights.

“People remain the most important,” Kunast said.

Conservative parliament members had previously opposed the constitutional changes, arguing that it could put the interests of animals before those of humans and be particularly damaging to Germany’s research industry.

Alternatives

Animal rights activists say they will use the constitutional changes to try and end to what they say are unduly long transport routes for animals.

Lawmakers said the government will also look at targeting more research funding to projects that seek alternatives to using animals for conducting experiments.

A widely criticised ruling by the constitutional court in January, authorising the traditional Islamic slaughter of animals without use of anaesthetic, lent new momentum to the animal rights movement. The court had ruled that religious freedoms were explicitly protected under the Basic Law while animal rights were not.

There is no indication that the new animal rights laws will have any impact on Germany’s ‘Fighting Dogs’ legislation, either at Federal or Regional States level. However, certain areas of the dog legislation could now be in direct conflict with the new animal rights legislation , such as the ‘short leash and muzzle’ restrictions, and the definition that some breeds should have non contact with other animals or human beings.

The breed-specific bans will not be affected by the new laws, as this matter is due to be resolved by a ruling in the German High Courts later this year.