(photo credit: REUTERS)
Toughening enforcement policies against animal rights abusers, the Knesset unanimously approved a bill in a second and third reading Monday that could land offenders in jail for up to four years.
The bill, an amendment to the Animal Welfare Law, is a combination of government legislation passed in November in the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee and a stricter text proposed by MK Itzik Shmuli (Zionist Union). Among the major changes to the law include raising maximum prison sentences for abusers from three to four years and enabling fines of up to NIS 226,000.
“We are taking a big and significant step in expanding the protection of animals today,” Shmuli said Monday. “The phenomenon of abusing animals has reached monstrous proportions in recent years, and I am glad that we managed to unite all members of the Knesset and the government in saying that we refuse to accept the situation.”
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, who was the champion of the government’s version of the bill, praised the legislation’s passage, describing the amendment as “an effective way to deal with animal welfare offenses.”
“Of course, the path toward fixing the situation is long, but today significant progress was made, which will lead us to a better reality,” Ariel said.
Among the other provisions of the amendment is the expansion of an existing ban on live tissue cutting for cosmetic purposes, as well as for tattooing and other harmful practices. The bill also imposes a ban on killing animals in non-euthanasia circumstances, according to a spokesman for Shmuli.
With regard to the abandonment of animals, the law will be applied not only to the owners of the animal in question but also to any person who is holding that animal regardless of ownership, the spokesman said. The bill also provides authorities with the legal capacity to confiscate an animal that they suspect will likely become the victim of abuse.
The bill also singles out the responsibility of the senior executives in a corporation – such as a slaughterhouse – that handles animals, by obliging these individuals to do everything in their power to prevent abuse, the spokesman explained. If such executives failed to prove beyond doubt that they took all possible measures to stop the abuse, they could be fined doubly.
“We will not stop here, and we are determined, alongside stricter penalties, to increase enforcement operations and expand educational activities for youths,” Shmuli said. “Our next goal is to promote the responsibility of managers in corporations for abuse cases that occur in their factories and slaughterhouses.”
Prior to the merger with the government bill, Shmuli’s legislation had included a maximum five-year prison sentence. While the final version passed by the Knesset on Monday included the fouryear sentence, rather than the five-year sentence, the text did include a section about corporate executives – which had been missing entirely from the government bill version approved in the Education, Culture and Sports Committee.
Ariel stressed that he was glad to see the cooperation among legislators on the issue, particularly highlighting how “there are no ideological differences among Knesset members about the issue of responsibility of a corporate officer.”
“Therefore, we will continue the dialogue will all Knesset members and organizations in order to reach a revised and agreed upon wording,” he added.
Although the bill was passed in its final form on Monday, legislators agreed that additional regulations currently in dispute would eventually be enacted, a spokesman for Ariel explained.
In response to the bill’s passage, the organizations Anonymous for Animal Rights and Let Animals Live acknowledged the “important provisions that enhance the enforcement mechanisms of the Animal Welfare Law.” The groups particularly praised a clause that requires municipal dog shelters to spay and neuter their animals prior to giving them away for adoption.
The organizations criticized this version of the bill, however, for failing to include the five-year sentence and for not fully imposing criminal liability on the senior officers at corporations that handle animals.
The bill only imposes such responsibility in a limited number of scenarios, the groups explained. MK Dov Henin (Joint List) filed a proposal to stiffen these measures, but said on Monday that coalition members “mobilized to topple” his suggestion.
“Animal abuse on farms and in industrial slaughterhouses takes place under the watchful eyes of managers who choose to silently approve violence,” a statement from the groups said. “We as consumers need to know that even in places that act according to the law, the suffering is immense.”