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Two-thousand and thirteen was another remarkable year for animal advocacy—so remarkable that it’s difficult to choose just 12 stories to highlight. So much good news came out of India, for example, that it could be an entire category onto itself. And don’t get me started on all the incredible documentaries released in the last 12 months (though I’ll get back to that point later). Everyone has their favorite animal activism-related stories for 2013; here are the 12 that really made me cheer.
For the first time, a bill was signed into law that demands accountability from the Department of Defense for its killing of more than 7,500 animals each year in medical training courses. As part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013, lawmakers required Pentagon officials to present a plan that details the phasing out of “live tissue training,” in which combat medics operate on animals to learn how to treat gunshot wounds and severed limbs. (I admit I knew very little about this issue until a couple of years ago, when I was researching Bleating Hearts, but now it is an integral part of the book.)
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has been lobbying to end the cruel practice for years, especially in light of the available human-based alternative methods. Instead of using animals, the medics will be expected to use human simulators, which resemble mannequins designed to react like the human body while being operated on, including the hemorrhaging of fake blood. Holding the military accountable for how animals are used will help draft legislation to one day end the practice altogether.
Animal experiments to test cosmetics or their ingredients have been outlawed in the European Union since 2009, but companies have been free to sell products with a history of animal testing conducted outside Europe. That all changed on March 11, when the EU’s new directive went into effect, making it illegal to sell any cosmetics in the EU—including shampoos, soaps, perfumes, deodorants, and toothpastes—if they have been tested on animals anywhere in the world.
“Animal testing in the name of beauty has never been acceptable,” said RSPCA chief executive Gavin Grant. “This landmark legislation at the end of a long campaign sends out a loud and clear message to other countries and those companies operating outside the EU.
“Many cosmetic companies are multinational but this legislation means that they can’t avoid a test ban in the EU by carrying out tests in other countries.
“If their products or ingredients have been newly-tested on animals then they cannot be sold in the EU, no matter where the testing took place.”
Complaining of “unforgivable sabotage” by Sea Shepherd, Japan’s whalers returned to port with their lowest Antarctic catch: 103 minke whales and no fin whales, the fewest since their so-called “research whaling” began in 1987, and well below the 1,000 whales they had hoped to kill. (In 2012, they caught 266 whales.) Japan’s Fisheries Agency said the whaling fleet spent nearly half its time in the Antarctic trying to avoid Sea Shepherd.
The new season of whaling in the Antarctic begins next month, and Japanese whalers intend to kill 1,035 whales, including 50 endangered fin whales and 50 endangered humpback whales. Something tells me that’s unlikely.
This was a long time coming, especially after activists from Animal Defenders International released video footage showing a 57-year-old arthritic elephant named Annie being beaten with a pitchfork and hit in the face by workers from the Bobby Roberts Super Circus in 2011. Although a government Select Committee recommended that any ban on the use of wild animals in circuses should be limited to just big cats and elephants, the government rejected the suggestion and announced the ban will apply to all animals.
It is believed there are about 35 wild animals—including camels, zebras, and snakes—currently being used in circuses. The RSPCA and Born Free Foundation have offered to help circus owners re-home their animals.
5. EU upholds trade ban on seal fur products (April)
When it announced its decision to uphold a three-year-old ban on seal products, the General Court of the European Union surprised many, including some who had all but declared that the ban would be overturned. This latest attempt by Canada’s sealing industry to suspend the ban came when they offered the ridiculous argument that it hurts the livelihood of the Inuit—a group that kills a small fraction of seals in Canada and for whom a clear exemption in the ban has been made.
In upholding the ban, the Luxembourg-based court said it is valid because it fairly harmonizes the EU market while protecting the economic and social interests of Inuit communities.
The World Trade Organization announced in November that it too was upholding the ban.
National surveys consistently show that most Canadians want the commercial seal slaughter to end, and that they oppose the Canadian government using tax dollars to promote the sealing industry. About 90,000 seals were killed in this year’s “hunt.”
6. India bans dolphin-captivity parks (May)
India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests declared a ban on dolphinariums and other commercial entertainment that involves the capture and confinement of cetacean species such as orcas and bottlenose dolphins, saying that because dolphins are by nature “highly intelligent and sensitive,” they ought to be seen as “nonhuman persons” and should have “their own specific rights.” It added that it is “morally unacceptable to keep them captive for entertainment purposes.” The government said research had clearly established cetaceans are highly intelligent and sensitive, and that dolphins “should be seen as ‘non-human persons’ and as such should have their own specific rights.” (Just let those statements percolate in your brain a bit.)
The move came after weeks of protest against a dolphin park in the state of Kerala and several other marine mammal entertainment facilities that were to be built this year. “This opens up a whole new discourse of ethics in the animal protection movement in India,” said Puja Mitra from the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations. India joins Chile, Costa Rica, and Hungary as countries that ban the capture and import of cetaceans for the purpose of commercial entertainment.
Three months after outlawing dolphin abusement parks in the country, the Ministry of Environment and Forests banned raising other marine mammals like whales, walruses, and seals in similar parks.
7. Colombia bans wild animals in circuses (June)
“After a six-year public campaign that included scientific reviews and exposed extreme abuse of circus animals through undercover investigations, Colombia joined four other South American countries (Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay) to ban their use,” the Colombian Congress announced.
Animal Defenders International (ADI) led the campaign as part of its global “Stop Circus Suffering” initiative. “We congratulate the Colombian Congress for approving this Bill and are delighted that Colombia has shown that animals should not suffer for our entertainment,” said ADI Chief Executive, Jan Creamer.
There are about 25 circuses in Colombia, 18 of which use animals. Circus operators will have until 2015 to comply with the new regulations.
India’s groundbreaking move follows the example set by Israel and all the 28 European Union countries that have implemented bans on animal testing (as well the sale) of products tested on animals anywhere in the world.
“Keeping in view the cruelty towards animals involved, the testing of cosmetics on animals will now not be allowed in the country,” said India’s Drug Controller General G.N. Singh.
Two members of the Indian Parliament, MP Baijayant “Jay” Panda and MP Maneka Gandhi (founder of People for Animals, India’s largest animal welfare organization), have indicated that the country will also move toward a sales ban, which will prevent companies from outsourcing testing to third countries and importing the animal-tested cosmetics back into the country for sale.
Oh, India, if only you were so progressive when it comes to human rights.
9. Belgium bans wild animals in circuses (July)
The Belgian government’s decision follows a 2011 survey that revealed the difficulty for circuses to ensure the welfare of animals. Issues of concern include lack of space, lack of opportunity to swim for some species, and non-compliance with the temperature requirements.
For ten years, the Belgium group Global Action in the Interest of Animals has been campaigning for a ban on wild animals in circuses and the group was finally able to introduce and win approval for such a bill.
Sadly, the ban only covers “wild” animals. Cows, buffalo, pigs, llamas, camels, camels, ferrets, rabbits, dogs, cats, pigeons, geese, chickens, parrots, parakeets, ducks, horses, donkeys, ponies, sheep, and goats will still be allowed.
Citing concerns about animal captivity and welfare, the government announced it was closing the country’s two public zoos and transferring the 400 animals to private animal-rescue centers around the country. There, those who will be able will be rehabilitated and released back into the wild. “We are getting rid of the cages and reinforcing the idea of interacting with biodiversity in botanical parks in a natural way,” Environment Minister René Castro said at a press conference to announce the planned closures. “We don’t want animals in captivity or enclosed in any way unless it is to rescue or save them.”
Incidentally, Costa Rica banned circuses with animals in 2002 and has also outlawed hunting for “sport.”
They came, they saw, they rescued 200 beagles. Two weeks later, the lab the activists had raided—the Instituto Royal in Sao Paulo—was closed. For good. Seems the lab’s operating license was suspended by the city government, as police investigated allegations of animal abuse.
The lab had carried out pre-clinical trials for drugs. Now, Brazilian drug makers seeking approval for such medications must do testing outside of the country. Or perhaps it’s time for the industry to rethink the whole “animal testing” model.
12. China moves to ban animal testing for cosmetics (November)
People are often surprised when they learn that testing shampoos, makeup, and soaps on animals remains legal in 8 out of 10 countries. Up until their announcement, which will go into effect in June 2014, China remained the only nation with mandatory animal testing requirements for domestically manufactured cosmetic products.
With a population of 1.3 billion, China is the world’s second-largest economy, making this a move with huge ramifications for animals. Humane Society International estimates that every year as many as 3,000,000 rabbits, mice, and other animals may be victims of cosmetics testing in China.
But it’s not just the millions of animals who will benefit. Now, brands that have refused to compromise their values and test their cosmetic products on animals—including LUSH, The Body Shop, JASON, and Paul Mitchell—will be able to trade in China, while Chinese brands will now be able to sell in the EU.
Other stories of the year worth noting:
CITES votes to protect sharks (March)
Los Angeles City Council bans bullhooks (October)
Music groups cancel their SeaWorld performances (December).
I’d also like to point out what a remarkable year it was for animal rights/vegan documentaries. Give Me Shelter, The Ghosts in Our Machine, Live and Let Live, Turlock, Lion Ark, and Speciesism: The Movie are just a few titles that come to mind, but it’s hard to imagine a film that has captured the attention of the public and mainstream media—not to mention animal abusers—like Blackfish; indeed, I will be shocked if it doesn’t take home the Academy Award for Best Documentary.Follow @markhawthorne