Belgium enshrines animal welfare in its Constitution

The Belgian parliament has officially recognised animal welfare in the country's Constitution, a move hailed by animal rights group GAIA as "historic progress" after years of campaigning.

On Thursday evening, the Belgian parliament passed a bill enshrining animal welfare in the constitution. Federal state, communities, and regions will now be required to "ensure the protection and welfare of animals as sentient beings."

The constitutional amendment builds on an amendment to the Belgian Civil Code in 2020, which recognises animals as sentient beings and not just property. Parliament debated the bill on Thursday, with supporters saying the constitutional article would provide clear guidelines on animal welfare.

Strong public support

Many MPs welcomed the success of the bill. Claire Hugon of the Ecolo party called it a "great victory for the improvement of animal protection", citing the strong public support shown in a 2017 survey by GAIA: "86% of Belgians who want this development of the Belgian Constitution."

The same survey showed that 90% of Belgians consider animals to be sentient beings who deserve respect. GAIA has been campaigning for animal welfare to be enshrined in the Belgian Constitution since 2016, and described Thursday's vote as "historic progress".

'Major societal evolution'

"Today, animal welfare becomes a full constitutional value, alongside other fundamental principles. This reflects a major societal evolution and underlines the growing importance of animal protection in our country," said GAIA president Michel Vandenbosch. 

The text had already been approved by the Senate and required a special two-thirds majority in the parliamentary vote to pass. It was adopted with 70 votes in favour, 23 against and 29 abstentions.

Belgium is the sixth EU Member State to grant constitutional protection to animals, following Germany, Slovenia, Luxembourg, Italy and Austria.



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