France: The Law Should Treat Animals as "Sentient Beings," Not "Personal Property"

In an encouraging move indicative of a change in the way non-humans are regarded in society, lawmakers in a French National Assembly committee voted earlier this week to officially elevate the legal status of animals from mere "personal property" to that of "sentient living being".

The law still must pass the full Assembly and Senate, but animal rights organizers are optimistic that it will move forward given the antiquated language in place now. Under current civil law, animals receive the same treatment as objects, report

"The civil code, which is the foundation of the law in France considers animals are no different to a chair or a table. They are see as just things," says Reha Hutin, president of the 30 Million Friends Foundation which started a petition for the change that reached 700,000 signatures.

"You can see how ridiculous that is. How can we teach children that a dog is no different to a table?"

Proponents of the amendment to "reconcile the legal characterization and emotional value" of animals admit that the legislation is largely symbolic, but it's nevertheless very significant that it has the overwhelming support of the French people. According to the Agence France-Presse, a poll found that 89 percent of the country approves of the change.

Since 2009, the European Union governing body has officially considered animals sentient beings under the Lisbon Treaty, though some national governments have been late in updating their laws to reflect it.