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Revision of the Animal Welfare Law realized

ALIVE News 18 December, 1999

The revision of the "Law concerning the Protection and Control of Animals", which we had been demanding for many years, finally became reality on 14 December, twenty-six years after the law was first passed.
With the imminent end of the extraordinary session of parliament, the bill was adopted on 7 December by the cabinet committee of the Lower House of Parliament after an explanation of its purpose and the items that could not, at this stage, be included.
After the government declared that it would respect the resolution, the bill was carried without attracting much interest. Since the amendment was introduced as a nonpartisan private member's bill, there was no plenary discussion in the Lower House and the bill was passed on the 9th. On the 14th the bill was adopted by the territorial environment committee of the Upper House, and carried by the plenum on the same day.
To all our members and supporters that had been demanding a revision I can report that their passionate hope has finally become reality.

Many omissions

The definition of cruelty (in particular that animals should be kept taking into account their physiology and natural behaviour), which our group had been demanding, the provision that offending establishments can be closed down, and matters relating to the handling of animals and the release of information are sadly lacking from the law, yet were included as points that should be discussed later in the legally non binding resolution of the committee.
Furthermore, the lack of any regulations about animal experiments has left us with a sizable task. In several foreign countries, experiments are seen as wilful acts causing pain or death to animals and therefore in especial need of oversight and regulation. In Japan however, any concerns are cursorily dismissed since "animal experiments are needed", and experiments however cruel are permitted.
Fortunately, there is an article in the law that calls for a revision after five years. We shall work towards that goal by focusing on gathering reliable information about the status quo and organising study meetings.
The result of our activities
Since ALIVE's inception in 1996, the revision of the Animal Welfare Law and establishment of regulations has been one of the central aims of our group.
The daily confrontation with animals being cruelly treated or held in bad conditions, made us realize that there is no system at all in Japan for their protection.
The institutionalized killing of abandoned dogs and cats and their sale to laboratories, the many cases of cruelty through neglect which we investigated (documented in the video "abandoned life", which was distributed nationwide to schools and libraries), and our call to members to monitor conditions at pet shops ("pet shop check") brought further evidence that maltreatment is widespread, reinforcing our belief that the law needed to be changed.
At every opportunity, whenever cases of animal abuse came to light, be it in conjunction with totally uncontrolled zoos or awful conditions at some breeding establishment, we impressed the importance of legal regulation on the media and politicians.
In April 1997 the fate of four hundred and forty cats and dogs, which had been used in a laboratory belonging to a pharmaceutical company that went bankrupt, caught the attention of the public. We could expose the flow of surplus animals from pet shops to laboratories, and demonstrate the need for regulation of the laboratory animal trade.
In October 1997, we exposed the terrible conditions at a breeding establishment in Nishio City (Aichi Prefecture). Many of the one hundred dogs or so were inflicted by skin disease and being slowly starved to death.
Not only did we call for regulation of breeders, but we also found homes for all the animals with the support of the local authorities and numerous ALIVE members.
In May 1999, four Orang-Utan babies, a species whose capture is strictly prohibited by law, were found at a pet shop in Osaka. This incident threw a spotlight on the illegal trade in animals, and we again called for strict control of offending traders and tighter regulation.
We joined the coalition of groups calling for a revision of the animal protection law in October 1997 and participated in the drafting of a new bill. We collected data on cases of animal abuse, held study meetings, enlisted the help of foreign animal welfare groups, and provided the media with a steady flow of information. Our members gave us their wholehearted support by distributing leaflets and collecting signatures, arranging expositions and lobbying politicians all over the country.

Future tasks and activity

We are of course pleased that as the result of these numerous activities the revision of the animal welfare law has finally been realised. However, with the omission of such vital areas as animal experiments, many tasks remain to be done. The Japanese law still lacks behind most countries in Europe and North America.
Furthermore, even though the law has now been changed, we cannot expect cruelty and maltreatment to disappear over night. Whether the law can be made effective depends entirely on our, the citizens', resolve. Since the cities and prefectures will create or adapt follow-up legislation in the coming months, lobbying local authorities will become ever more important.
In order to make the law effective, the interest and concern of people that empathize with suffering animals will be essential. Hence let us work together towards this aim and the inclusion of the omitted items in the next revision.
In connection with this campaign, ALIVE has received many signatures, letters and faxes from all over Japan. Thank you very much for your warm support and help.
ALIVE has published "Animal welfare legislation overseas" (Fact sheet #1) containing a description of regulations in the European Union. This will soon be followed by Fact sheet #2 with information about the very diverse legislation in the United Kingdom (encompassing areas such as cruelty, animal experiments, wild animals, farm animals, companion animals etc). With this as a reference point we can demonstrate how far Japan lacks behind other countries. Please have a look at this.

A revision centered on pets

We can say that the current revision concentrated on stricter rules for animals kept as pets. Here is the gist of the new law and some background information.
1. in our aging society more recognition is given to the importance of companion animals, and the interaction of children with animals at an early stage;
2. more attention is given to animal abuse as a societal problem (the juvenile murderer in Kobe with a history of cat abuse, the breeder in Aichi Prefecture where dogs had been kept in a terrible environment.)
3. the penalties are light. In the absence of a rules for traders, an appropriate response to substandard breeders etc is difficult under the old law.
4. the introduction of rules for animal traders (excluding farm animals and laboratory animals):
.traders must report to the authorities so these can gain some insight about the status quo. Spot checks where needed, recommendations, later orders for improvements.
.local regulations based on the law.
5. Preventive measures to curb wanton killing or maiming, as well as abandonment of animals have been made more effective with the introduction of stiffer penalties:
.the abandonment of reptiles has received some attention lately, so reptiles have been added to the list of animals which enjoy protection.
.by increasing penalties society has indicated that killing and maiming, as well as abandoning animals are crimes it does not tolerate, and thus helps their prevention.
6. keepers of animals have increased responsibilities; proper treatment shall be promoted through guidance and publicity.
.there will be better instructions to limit the number of dogs and cats that are bred.

.there will be a committee constituted from veterinarians and other professionals, and an administrative council that supports its activities.

Demands that have been met, and omissions

Some of the items we had demanded, have been integrated into the new law. Others, especially concerning animals experiments, are utterly lacking. There follows a list of such items. To have them included in the next revision will be the goal of our future activities.
1. Requested: "Law concerning the protection and control of animals": no change needed.
Amendment: "Law concerning the (loving: aigo) protection and control of animals"
2. The definition of "animal":
Requested: "Animals are not things but living beings that can feel pain in mind and body like humans do."
Amendment: "Taking into account that animals are living beings, and taking the coexistence of animals and humans into consideration..."
3. Animals protected by the law
Requested: Mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibia (including ownerless and wild animals)
Amendment: Mammals, birds, reptiles (excluding ownerless and wild animals)
4. Definition of cruelty and penalties
Requested: Abandonment and cruelty are specified in six items, maximum fine 300,000 yen, maximum imprisonment 3 years.
Amendment: Maximum fine 1,000,000 yen, maximum imprisonment 1 year in the case of killing and animal; in the case of starving or injuring or abandoning an animal the maximum fine is 300,000 yen.
5. Rights and duties of the owner of an animal
Requested: The owner of an animal has a right to live in peace with his animal as long as he does not inconvenience any other people.
Amendment: Owners of animals shall have a good knowledge of infectious diseases, and they shall properly identify their animals.
6. Banning orders
Requested: Keepers that repeatedly inflict cruelty can be temporarily banned from keeping animals.
Amendment: Recommendations can be issued to keepers if the manner in which they keep the animals causes a deterioration of the surrounding living environment.
7. The extent of "animal traders"
Requested: breeders, pet shops, importers, exhibitors, breeders of laboratory animals, etc.
Amendment: people that sell, keep, rent out, train, exhibit animals commercially and other categories to be determined by ordinance.
8. Regulation of animal traders
Requested: Licenses that have to be renewed annually.
Amendment: Notification. Failure to submit, or the submission of false information carries a maximum penalty of 200,000 yen. Resubmission if there are any changes. The state and the municipalities have a duty to define standards. On-site investigation are possible. Warnings can be issued to substandard traders.
9. Responsibilites
Requested: A person with the responsibility to investigate and provide guidance should be appointed. On-site investigations, and subsequent recommendations for improvements in the manner animals are kept, or the facilities where they are kept, can be issued.
Animals can be temporarily placed into somebody else's custody.
Amendment: Local public authorities can appoint an animal protection officer by ordinance. This officer must be a veterinarian or other expert.
10. Involvement of the public
Requested: the appointment of an animal welfare counselor drawn from the public.
Amendment: an officer for the promotion of animal protection can be appointed. He shall advise in matters regarding the proper care and treatment of animals, the necessity of neutering, and relinquishing an animal.
11. Publicity and activities by the state
Requested: to deepen the understanding of animal behaviour and ecology, to conduct educational activities to prevent animal abuse.
Amendment: educational activities to promote the proper care and treatment of animals, promotion in the public media.
12. Animal experiments
Requested: experiments and facilities must be authorized. The establishment of an ethics committee with half its members drawn from the outside and various fields of knowledge. Public disclosure of relevant facts. The use of wild animals, and transfer of dogs and cats (from pet shops etc) is prohibited.
Amendment: nil
13. The law shall come into force within one year of its publication.
14. The enforcement of the law will be investigated after 5 years and possible amendments made.
15. Following the reorganisation of the ministries and agencies, responsibility for this law will be transferred to the Environmental Agency.