Protecting pets - Austria enacts strict animal rights laws

Friday, May 28, 2004

VIENNA, Austria -- Austrian lawmakers on Thursday approved one of Europe's toughest animal rights laws, a measure that forces farmers to uncage chickens and bars pet owners from clipping their dogs' ears or tails.

The law, enacted by a unanimous vote in parliament, outlaws the use of lions and other wild animals in circuses and makes it illegal to restrain dogs with chains, choke collars or "invisible fence" -- devices that administer mild electric shocks.

Those found guilty of animal cruelty would be subject to fines up to $18,000 in extreme cases.

Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel hailed the law as a "pioneering example" for the world on how to respect animals, and said he would press for similar legislation across the European Union.

The measure had broad support among all four main parties in the National Assembly, where Minister of Social Affairs Herbert Haupt drew laughter by holding up a small stuffed toy dog while addressing lawmakers Thursday.

Haupt, a veterinarian, had pushed for the law since the 1980s.

A key provision bans the widespread practice of confining chickens to small cages on farms and makes it a crime to tightly bind cattle with ropes.

Pet owners and breeders no longer will be allowed to cut puppies' ears or tails, a common practice with certain breeds.

The law, which needs the president's signature, will take effect in January.

The Austrian Farm Federation opposed the law, arguing that forcing farmers to raise only "free range" chickens will increase costs. Federation chief Fritz Grillitsch warned that it could lead to cheaper poultry appearing in supermarkets from countries with more lax restrictions.

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