Over the last decade, the Polish animal advocacy movement has grown significantly stronger. Animal protection issues are now increasingly present in public discourse as well as on the political agenda. To a large extent, this is thanks to the still-developing but dynamic community of non-governmental organisations speaking up for animals. Guest writer, Iga Glazewska, will explore the main animal protection laws in Poland.
Animal protection laws in Poland
Poland, as a member state of the European Union (EU), is bound by EU law with regard to animal protection. Admissible methods of animal farming are regulated by the Organisation of Livestock Breeding and Reproduction Act of 2020, which incorporates the provisions of two EU directives and regulation in this area. The provisions of the EU directives concerning the protection of wildlife, natural habitats, animals in zoos and marine environment are implemented in Poland by the Nature Protection Act of 2004.
In addition, the key, domestic legislation regarding animal welfare in Poland is the Animal Protection Act 1997 (APA), which incorporates the provisions of six EU directives and one regulation which concern the protection of animals at the time of slaughter, and the welfare of animals in transit and in farming. The protection of animals used in laboratories is a matter regulated by a separate act - the Act on the Protection of Animals Used for Scientific or Educational Purposes 2015. On 22nd May, Poland celebrates Animal Rights Day to commemorate adopting the Animal Protection Act. Despite this, significant gaps remain in Polish legislation. According to Polish law, animals do not really have legal personhood. While animals are recognised as “living beings capable of suffering" and "not-things" (APA, art. 1.1) and as "requiring humane treatment" (APA, art. 5), the APA also states that "in matters not covered by the Act, the legislation to things shall apply accordingly to animals” (APA, art.1.2) (‘things’ here essentially meaning property or inanimate objects).
Moreover, the APA only protects vertebrate animals, thereby excluding animals like crabs and lobsters which science has shown feel pain. Those vertebrate animals which are protected are further divided by the Act into several groups, including domestic animals, farm animals, animals in entertainment and free-living (wild) animals. These arbitrary divisions—based on how humans relate to them rather than on their inherent characteristics—result in animals being protected in different ways and to different extents. It puts exceptional emphasis on domestic animals, and the welfare of other groups of animals is not sufficiently secured. A good example is provided by the chapter on wildlife – two out of only three articles of the chapter concern ways of obtaining animal bodies and hunting trophies.
Crimes against animals
The APA includes certain prohibitions with regard to the killing of animals and animal abuse. Despite the general prohibition on killing animals, the APA enumerates broad exceptions to the prohibition, such as killing animals raised for meat and skin, hunting, or fishing. Fur farming and ritual slaughter without stunning is also allowed. These exceptions highlight the ethical inconsistency in the law, as the APA emphasises that all vertebrate animals, as sentient beings, "should be respected, protected and cared for" (APA, art. 1.1).
Animal abuse is defined as "inflicting pain or suffering, or knowingly allowing pain or suffering to be inflicted" (APA, art. 6.2). The APA contains an open catalog of what ‘in particular’ is recognised as abuse, such as deliberately injuring an animal or using cruel methods in animal farming. Importantly, the APA classifies both “unnecessary” killing of animals and animal abuse as crimes – and the Polish Penal Code subjects such actions to sanctions, including fines, forfeiture of the animal, bans on animal ownership, and sentences of imprisonment from 3 months up to 3 years, or 5 years in cases of extreme cruelty.
Although the Animal Protection Act requires comprehensive amendments, much of the problem lies in the lack of effective enforcement. This concerns as much the police as prosecutors and judges who often consider offences involving animals to be negligible. According to research conducted by two NGOs, over 70% of all animal cruelty cases are discontinued, and only 19% end up in court. Despite the Veterinary Inspection and the appropriate public administration bodies being responsible for the implementation of the APA, NGOs are still far too often forced to step in.
What is the future of animal protection in Poland?
The APA requires amending, in a way that would acknowledge and reflect the latest scientific knowledge in the field of animal sentience, and be ethically coherent. However, until this happens, strengthening enforcement mechanisms remains a priority. Hopefully, law enforcement agencies and judicial system will finally respond to the changing social awareness and efforts of the third sector, and start treating animal cruelty cases with the seriousness non-human animals deserve.
This post is not legal advice and should not be relied on as such. If you require legal advice on animal protection laws please contact email@example.com
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