What France's New Animal Rights Law Actually Means For Animals

<p>William Warby / <a class="checked-link" href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/wwarby/5109459161/" target="_blank">Flickr</a>(<a class="checked-link" href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/" target="_blank">CC BY 2.0</a>)<span></span></p>

Many people recently learned that nonhuman animals (animals) are now considered to be "living beings gifted sentience," rather than "movable property," under the French Civil Code. I've had a number of emails letting me know how happy people are about this news, however, I came to realize that many people didn't read the short article about this change in legal status.

The change in legal status for other animals is very limited in scope. So, for example, the new amendment "does not change the situation for farmers significantly because it does not create a special status for animals between the men and goods. Animals thus remain property under the Civil Code." (my emphasis) And, this change "only applies to pets or wild animals tamed or held in captivity. The sentience of wild animals, meanwhile, is not recognized." (my emphasis)

There is other legislation that has focused on animal sentience. The Treaty of Lisbon, passed by member states of the European Union that went into force on Dec. 1, 2009, recognizes that "In formulating and implementing the Union's agriculture, fisheries, transport, internal market, research and technological development and space policies, the Union and the Member States shall, since animals are sentient beings, pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals, while respecting the legislative or administrative provisions and customs of the Member States relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage."

Despite its limitations, this is very good news

Concerning the change in legal status, Christiane Taubira, Minister of Justice, notes, "It's an act that has weight, meaning and consequences." Reha Hutin, president of the Foundation 30 Millions d'Amis agrees. She notes, "The main lock popped! This breakthrough creates favorable conditions for the improvement of the animal's lives ..." This group "has worked toward this change for more than 10 years. They hope the new amendment will change attitudes and also allow judges to apply the existing law more easily."

I, too, am thrilled about this new legislation, and congratulate all of the people who worked so hard to get it passed. It surely will call attention to, and raise consciousness about, the horrific plight of animals in France and elsewhere, and it is wonderful news for a very limited group of animals. However, there is a lot of work to be done to widen the circle of animals who actually receive more respect and protection from harm. We must give all animals full credit for the amazing beings they are, and use this information on their behalf.

Good luck and a hearty thanks to all of those who are tirelessly working to change, and to greatly improve, the legal status of animals around the world. The animals need all the support they can get.