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Animal wellbeing to be enshrined in Belgian constitution

15:50 14/10/2023

Animals will soon be legally recognised as "sentient beings" in Belgium – giving them de facto more protection – following the Belgian Senate’s unanimous approval of a proposal enshrining animal wellbeing in the Belgian constitution, the text first created on 7 February 1831, when Belgium became a federal state.

While the text does not mention to the "rights" of animals, it adds the following words: “In exercising their respective powers, the federal state, the communities and the regions ensure the protection and wellbeing of animals as ‘sentient beings’.”

The proposal will now go for a vote at the Senate’s plenary session, and then the Chamber will need to vote on the new text.

The Senate’s institutional affairs committee was working on a proposal from Senator Bert Anciaux, from the Flemish Socialist Vooruit party, tabled at the start of the legislature.

A dozen hearings were held before the compromise proposal was signed by the socialists, environmentalists and liberals in the Belgian parliament.

Animal rights association Gaia said the vote was "an important victory".

It added: “Animal welfare, once it obtains constitutional status, will have increased legal weight in the face of purely human and financial interests. It will also take on greater importance in the eyes of judges assigned to animal abuse cases.”

But Gaia would like more to be done. It supported the proposal of the Socialist and Ecolo-Groen parties that would have given Belgium’s constitutional court direct control of any proceedings involving animals.

Gaia also welcomes the recent approval of the animal welfare code by the Brussels parliament. But the organisation’s co-founder Ann de Greef regrets that this code does not ban the sale of fur, foie gras, glue traps or round goldfish bowls.

And the campaign group is especially disappointed that the code does not include a ban on the slaughtering of animals without stunning.

The new rules will stop live animals being sold in markets, forbid the use of any animals - not just tigers and elephants - in circuses, and increase the punishments for breaking the code to five years’ imprisonment or fines of up to €500,000.

Written by Liz Newmark