Development of Animal Welfare Laws

How we treat animals has long been a concern for philosophers, ethicists and humanitarians. Developments in animal protection have for hundreds of years run in parallel with developments in human rights and protection. Often advocates of animal protection were also advocates working in the field of child protection, anti-slavery and emancipation. However for there to be real progress in any of these fields there needs to be a legal framework that can be used to encourage people to behave in the way that society (through various mechanisms) has deemed they should and gives us a mechanism to punish people who do not comply.

Brief History of Animal Welfare Legislation

The first animal welfare law was Martin's Act which was introduced in 1822 and was a very basic law aimed protecting food animals but this was as a key first step in the legal process required to back-up and drive improvements in animal protection and welfare. In fact, as a result of this, the RSPCA was formed and the first inspectors engaged – their chief role being to 'police' animal markets against animal cruelty. In the UK the introduction of the legislation and the action of the RSPCA, its Inspectors, supporters and advocates set a precedent that was then followed by other jurisdictions in the world including Hong Kong. It is interesting to note that Hong Kong's Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance was introduced in 1935 - 14 years after the HK SPCA was formalised in 1921.

Over the years there have been many developments in general concepts and attitudes to towards animals along with increased knowledge and understanding of their biology and also welfare. In other jurisdictions (including those with legal systems that are comparable to Hong Kong) the law and the legislative process has developed aiming to ensure that animal welfare legislation matches these developments and has facets that proactively encourage or direct people to treat animals in such a way that their welfare should improve.

Unfortunately now Hong Kong is lagging behind not only with anti-cruelty legislation but also with other legislation that should promote and ensure positive welfare and monitoring of animals used, including those in the pet trade, laboratory and those slaughtered for food.