Redefining the term “animal welfare” | Daily News

Redefining the term “animal welfare”

Last week, a public interest litigation was filed in the Supreme Court seeking an interim order, directing the Inspector General of Police and relevant authorities to take immediate measures to prevent the killing, murder, maiming, abusing or other cruelty against dogs and cats.

The petitioners stated that there has been an exponential, proliferation of the killing of dogs, within state institutions, public property, streets and other public places, which has reached alarming and chilling proportions, and which has resulted in a concerted public outcry and public outburst against such unmitigated brutality. This incident brought into focus, once again, the rights and welfare of animals in Sri Lanka.


In our 2300-year old culture, animals always had a respect and a special place in society. The foundation of our two major religions was ‘Ahimsa’ or ‘non-violence’, not only towards fellow humans and animals, but also to every living creature including an insect.

With such rich culture and heritage, compassion was the foundation of society and there was no need for animal welfare organisations. Each home was an animal welfare institution by itself. Most homes had cattle in the backyard, bullocks working in the fields, cows and buffaloes providing milk. Dogs and cats lived inside the homes as members of the family. It was a beautiful picture of co-existence of animals and humans. But today times have changed. With population explosion, urbanization and consumerism catching up, animals have become easy prey for human greed. The Western world is still trying to distinguish between good and bad standards of animal welfare. However, there is no common ground for acceptance. It varies considerably between different countries.

For example, the world organisation for animal health or OIE (Office International des Epizooties) define animal welfare as how an animal is coping with the conditions in which it lives. The organisation has put forward “five freedoms” to describe the right to welfare of animals under human control. They are freedom from hunger, freedom from malnutrition and thirst, freedom from fear and distress, freedom from physical and thermal discomfort, freedom from pain, injury and disease and freedom to express normal patterns of behaviour.

The OIE considers that animal welfare standards should be based on sound science and standards should focus on the results achieved for the animal and they should always seek to maintain health as a basis of welfare.

The European Commission also has been promoting their concept of animal welfare for many decades. Twenty years ago, they took an important step by issuing a Council Directive on the protection of animals kept for farming purposes. The Directive gave general rules for the protection of animals of all species used for the production of food, wool, skin or fur or for other farming purposes.

These rules were based on the (TFEU) - Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Article 13 of TFEU provides that in “formulating and implementing the Union’s agriculture, fisheries, transport, internal market, research and technological development, the Member States shall, since animals are sentient beings, pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals.


Now, let us turn to our neighbour - India. In 1960, India introduced its first national animal welfare law, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, criminalizing cruelty to animals. However, exceptions were made for the treatment of animals used for food and scientific experiments. The 1960 law also created the Animal Welfare Board of India to ensure the anti-cruelty provisions were enforced and promote the cause of animal welfare.

Subsequent laws have placed regulations and restrictions on the use of draught animals, the use of performing animals, animal transport, animal slaughter, and animal experimentation.

A 2006 amendment specifies that experimenters must first try to use animals “lowest on the phylogenetic scale”, use the minimum number of animals for 95% statistical confidence, and justify not using non-animal alternatives. A 2013 amendment bans the use of live animal experiments in medical education. In 2014 India became the first country in Asia to ban all testing of cosmetics on animals and the import of cosmetics tested on animals.

Today, India has a grade of C out of possible grades A, B, C, D, E, F, G on Global Animal Protection Index. The Animal Protection Index ranks countries on their commitment to protect animals in their legislation, improve animal welfare and recognise animal sentience. Sri Lanka is not yet listed for evaluation.


It’s also worth to look at the Malaysian experience. On July 18, 2017, Animal Welfare Act has come into force in Malaysia, which marked the highest goal for animal welfare in Malaysia.

The Act tightens regulations on activities involving animals, and there’s a Animal Welfare Board set up to enforce the Act. This Board has a long list of functions, from promoting awareness on animal welfare to advising the relevant Ministers on matters pertaining to animal welfare.

The new Act amends the two previous Acts – 1953 and 2013, rather, it expands on the welfare of animals in greater scope. Number of positive steps have been brought in.

1. All individuals and businesses who handle animals for a living need to apply for a license from the Animal Welfare Board. This does not apply to pet owners, but applies to businesses like pet shops, animal shelters, and more of the like. The penalty for not having a license ranges from RM15,000 to RM75,000.

2. Pet owners and license holders will be required to take care of each of their animals’ needs such as: (1) Take reasonable steps to ensure that the needs of an animal are fulfilled, which includes (i) its need for a suitable environment; (ii) its need for a suitable diet; (iii) the need for it to be able to exhibit its normal behaviour patterns; (iv) the need for it to be housed with or apart from other animals; and (v) the need for it to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease;

(2) Pet owners found guilty of any offence under the Act can have their pets taken away, and be barred from handling animals for up to one year; license holders may be barred from holding a license for up to five years as well as be barred from owning personal pets for up to one year.

(3) All research, testing, and teaching using animals must be done with a special license. In addition to the duties from point number (1) imposed by the license, the animals must be well taken care of. Even where pain or suffering cannot be avoided, it must be minimized or the testers will face consequences. Offenders will be liable to a fine of between RM20,000 to RM100,000 and/or be jailed for three years.

4. Animal Welfare Officers are authorised to search a suspect’s house for evidence of animal abuse without a warrant. They normally require a warrant under the Criminal Procedure Code, but can bypass this if they think there's a chance that evidence will be tampered with, removed, or destroyed while waiting for a warrant to be issued.

5. The definition of “animal cruelty” in Malaysian law has expanded in scope. This includes mutilation, neglect, use of cruel equipment, shooting for sport, and animal fights etc. Offenders under this Section are liable to between RM20,000 and RM100,000 in fines and/or three years of imprisonment. The putting down of animals has also been regulated by the new law. (One RM equals to about Rs. 35.90, if you want to calculate in local currency).

Sri Lanka

As we turn our attention to Sri Lanka, we can notice how much we are lagging way behind the other countries regarding animal welfare. We just have a severely out-dated ordinance – Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance, which is 110 years old. We also have an amendment done in 1955 which is applicable only to domesticated animals not for others found in urban wild life. For a long time, civil society organisations working on animal welfare have pointed out the need for passing the new Animal Welfare Bill replacing the out-of-date ordinance. They also have recommended the establishment of a National Animal Welfare Authority and a Code of Practice and to raise awareness on animal welfare. In 2006, the Law Commission, with the support of the interested parties, drafted an Animal Welfare Bill (including the formation of a National Animal Welfare Authority) and forwarded it to then President. The Bill too got stuck in the legislative pipeline and didn’t see the light during his tenure. In 2015, the new Government brought forth this Bill under its 100-day programme, and in 2016, it was approved by the Cabinet.

It is imperative that the Government table the Bill at the Parliament at an early date to ensure effective and efficient laws on cruelty to animals are in place in Sri Lanka in keeping with the global trend. And, also taking the cue from India, the Government can consider giving the due rights to animals in the new Constitution they are presently drafting. 



Add new comment

Or log in with...