On birds and other animals

It has been seven years since the spring hunting referendum, a Green Party initiative in Malta supported by a coalition of 13 environmental and animal welfare NGOs, was lost by the smallest of margins.  Occasionally we still have public references to that democratic process as the hunting lobby wants to restrict its availability. So far, fortunately, they have not been heeded. One does not however know whether this will remain so.

Rather than restricting the use of a referendum by popular demand one should consider extending it. The right to call an abrogative referendum should be extended to also include a referendum which proposes legislative initiatives. So far, we have the right to take the initiative to delete legislation or part of it, hence the term “abrogative” meaning “to delete”. This democratic right should be extended to make it possible to include the taking of legislative initiatives by the electorate, in particular those initiatives which are continuously avoided by Parliament. ADPD-The Green Party has time and again proposed the matter in its electoral manifesto, including in the manifesto for the 2022 general elections.

The 2015 spring hunting referendum sought to delete from the statute book legislation permitting spring hunting. This would have addressed issues of biodiversity by abolishing hunting during the bird breeding season. The 2015 referendum initiative did not however address issues of animal welfare as in such a case one would have to consider the complete abolition of hunting. This was and in fact still is the valid view of a number of animal welfare NGOs.

The local debate on animal welfare is unfortunately limited to treatment of pets, to animals used in research and relatively recently to the welfare of horses used by the local cabs (karozzini). Various initiatives in this respect have been embarked on in the past years as a result of the persistent lobbying by animal welfare NGOs.

The treatment of farm animals is a basic issue which is not given due weight by the agricultural industry. It is given an ever-increasing importance within the EU.

Recently, Alison Bezzina, the Animal Welfare Commissioner sought to extend the animal welfare debate by challenging the need for milk consumption. She did this in her comments on World Milk Day (3 June) basing her arguments on what cows are made to endure in order to produce milk for human consumption. It was pointed out that access of the new born calves to that same milk which nature provides for their subsistence is diverted to human use!

Extending the argument further, it has been stated by many others that if the abattoir had glass walls none of us would ever eat meat again. The point made being is, to put it mildly, that the process to produce meat for our consumption causes a lot of unnecessary suffering to animals, which, if we are aware of, would put most of us off meat consumption permanently.

Transparency at the abattoir and farm factories is essential in order to ascertain as to whether the basics of animal welfare standards are being adhered to!

From the farm to the fork there are many issues of animal welfare which are continuously ignored by one and all. Being aware as to what goes on behind the closed doors of farms and farm factories would undoubtedly force us to think carefully about our choices of food. Choices which, so far, we take for granted, as they are choices which we consider to be automatic ones and which we rarely think about.

The ethics of what we eat is a natural extension of the environmental debate. In fact, environmental justice and animal welfare are twins.

The number of those who do not eat meat as well as those who do not consume dairy products is on the increase on a global level. Their choices are based on environmental, animal welfare and ethical considerations.

Government penalises those who make ethical choices when it comes to food! This was emphasised recently in an interview by Darryl Grima, an environmentalist, vegan and End the Slaughter campaigner. It is about time that government does not penalise those making such choices. Darryl Grima refers to one example. Dairy milk is considered as food and is therefore not subject to value added tax (VAT). Its substitutes, however, plant-based milks, are still subject to VAT. This is unacceptable and should change.

Mahatma Gandhi used to emphasise that “the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way in which its animals are treated”.  This is food for thought: pun intended.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 10 July 2022

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