Editor's Note: Heather Moore is a staff writer for the PETA Foundation.
By Heather Moore – Special to CNN
The thought-provoking new film Rise of the Planet of the Apes may have people talking long after they leave the Cineplex. In the film, a scientist genetically modifies a young chimpanzee to create a new breed of ape with human-like intelligence. The chimpanzee matures quickly, escapes from his cage and recruits an army among thousands of caged apes. They revolt, and a war breaks out between the species.
While much of the movie is obviously science fiction, hundreds of chimpanzees really are used in laboratory experiments in the U.S.—the only developed country that still conducts invasive experiments on chimpanzees. These animals are cut open, addicted to drugs, kept in isolation, or inoculated with infectious agents—all legally. The U.S. Animal Welfare Act (AWA) does not prohibit any experiment, no matter how cruel or irrelevant. It simply sets minimum housing and maintenance standards for confined animals.
On the whole, the federal AWA has little bark and no bite. Rats, birds and mice aren’t covered under the act, even though they make up approximately 95 percent of all animals used in laboratories. Cold-blooded animals are also not protected, and horses and farmed animals are covered only if they’re used in biomedical experiments. The AWA doesn’t apply to retail pet stores, state and county fairs, livestock shows, rodeos or agricultural exhibitions.
America is a world leader in some respects, but it lags behind many countries when it comes to animal protection laws. So, where in the world are animals treated humanely? It often depends on the issue—or species—but one could argue that European Union (EU) countries tend to be kinder overall.
In 2008, Spain (once thought of as the bullfighting capital of the world) became the first country to grant great apes “human rights,” banning experiments on chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans and bonobos. The Balearic Islands, Britain, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium and Austria also prohibit experiments on great apes.
Austria has one of the strongest anti-cruelty laws in the EU, prohibiting many practices that are commonplace elsewhere. In Austria, it’s illegal for pet stores to sell puppies and kittens, for circuses to use lions and tigers and for people to crop dogs’ ears and tails or to restrain dogs with chains, choke collars or “invisible” electric fences. After the law passed in 2004, Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel proclaimed, “Austria is taking the role of pioneer. This new law … lifts animal protection to the highest level internationally.”
Several other European nations, including Sweden, Estonia, Norway, Finland, Iceland, the Netherlands and Switzerland, prohibit ear cropping and tail docking. The Netherlands also outlaws fox and chinchilla farming and gives vegetarians discount health insurance rates. Earlier this year, the EU approved a new regulation requiring that all clothing containing fur or leather be clearly marked with labels stating, “Non-textile parts of animal origin.”
At least 14 EU nations have laws prohibiting the production of foie gras. (In the U.S., foie gras production will be illegal in California in 2012.) Veal crates have been banned in the U.K. since 1990, and other EU countries have adopted laws to ban battery cages, veal crates and gestation crates, all of which are common in the U.S.
In 2004, Reggio Emilia, Italy, passed unprecedented animal rights bylaws, making it illegal to boil lobsters alive and keep goldfish in glass bowls. Amusement parks cannot legally give their customers goldfish, chicks and rabbits as prizes, and social species of captive birds must be kept in pairs. Birdcages in Reggio Emilia—the unofficial bird breeding capital of Italy—must meet specific size guidelines. Monza, Italy, also prohibits people from keeping goldfish in bowls and forbids fairs from giving away dyed chicks and other small animals as prizes.
Global views about animals are evolving. China drafted its first animal protection law last year. India’s environment ministry recently added bulls to the list of animals who can’t be used for entertainment under that country’s “Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960,” banning cruel bullfights and bull races. We still have a long way to go before any nation can be considered completely morally progressive, but some nations have made significant strides.
Ultimately, progress in animal protection lies with the public. When more Americans press for an end to animal experiments, lobby for local Meatless Monday resolutions, contact their lawmakers about mandatory spay and neuter laws and take other steps to make animal protection a key issue in this country, stronger animal protection laws will follow. Perhaps someday humans, apes and other animals will all coexist peaceably.