The slaughter industry and the professional federation of animal breeders have asked the Constitutional Court to overturn a decree with stricter punishments for animal abusers.
The decree stipulates that people who mistreat animals can face up to 10 years in prison in case of a repeated offence.
Slaughterhouses and breeders have several objections: the decree would give too much leeway to judges, the stricter rules would be a competitive disadvantage within the European market and "freedom of expression would be violated" because Flanders also provides severe penalties for sellers who use deceptive publicity.
"It is unfathomable that these sectors are the objective ally of animal torturers," said Flemish Animals Minister Ben Weyts. "It is not the first time that we have had to take the fight for more animal welfare all the way to the Constitutional Court. This time, too, we will fervently defend our policy".
The disputed decree
The Flemish Parliament approved a decree in February at the behest of Animals Minister Ben Weyts that provides stricter penalties for citizens and companies who mistreat or neglect animals. Among other things, the decree stipulates that animal torturers can face up to five years in prison or even 10 years in case of re-offending.
Since the adoption of this decree, it is now also possible to immediately detain animal torturers in pre-trial detention. Judges now also have the possibility to close down businesses for a longer period or even forever. A deliberate choice was made for a simple and clear system, with as few different sentencing options possible, ensuring the judge always has the necessary leeway to determine the punishment.
The decree is now being challenged in the Constitutional Court by the Federation of Belgian Meat (FEBEV), the Association of Industrial Poultry Slaughterhouses (VIP), the Professional Association for the Belgian Veal Sector (BMS), an individual dog breeder and Anizoo - the professional federation of animal breeders.
Objections to the stricter rules
Three main objections are raised. Firstly, the decree would give too much leeway to judges to determine penalties. However, this was a deliberate choice to ensure that effective sentences could be handed down that took into account mitigating or aggravating circumstances.
Secondly, the more numerous and stricter rules in Flanders would be a competitive disadvantage within the single European market where there is free movement of goods 'including animals'. In fact, Flanders wants to play a pioneering role within Europe on animal welfare.
Thirdly, freedom of expression would be too compromised because severe penalties are now also possible for sellers who use deceptive publicity, for example by using photos of other animals.
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"The stricter penalties for animal torturers have enormous support: they were unanimously approved in the Flemish Parliament. This is a necessary and legitimate decree," said Weyts. "In my view, the slaughterhouses and animal breeders are fighting a rearguard action. We will therefore argue our case in full before the Constitutional Court".