BEIRUT: Agriculture Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan stressed Tuesday the need for government bodies to carry out their duties to improve society, including tackling animal welfare, despite the difficult security situation in the country. “Maybe people would be surprised to learn that the Agriculture Minister and Animals Lebanon and international experts are holding this news conference to talk about and tackle these issues of animal welfare,” he said at a workshop held by the ministry, Animals Lebanon and the World Society for the Protection of Animals.
“Despite all the challenges we are facing in Lebanon it is the duty of [the] government to have legislation covering all subjects ... laws which are modern and promote Lebanon to the level of other countries.”
Animals Lebanon presented a draft law on animal protection and welfare to Parliament last November, and, at the behest of Hajj Hasan, a committee to review the law was formed in December, comprising members of Agriculture Ministry staff and representatives of the NGO.
The draft text offers a comprehensive raft of legislation including issues related to animal handling, zoos, pet shops, farming, animal experimentation and compliance with international regulations.
Earlier this month Parliament voted to approve Lebanon joining the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which regulates the trade of endangered species, including animals and plants.
National legislation will now have to be enacted, but the Parliament vote was a major achievement for the NGO, which has been working on the issue for several years.
The president of Animals Lebanon, Lana al-Khalil, Tuesday thanked Hajj Hasan. “Thank you for being so progressive and showing so much commitment to us ... We have come so far in such a short time,” she said.
Once the draft law on animal protection is also passed, Lebanon will have moved from being, she said, “a country with outdated animal laws to a country with progressive laws.”
Paraphrasing Gandhi, Khalil said that it was necessary to remember, “The civility of a nation can be judged by how it treats its animals.”
Alistair Findlay, the Middle East programs manager for WSPA, said that since his last visit to Lebanon, cut short due to the 2006 war, he was “absolutely delighted with the progress that has been made,” which, he said, puts Lebanon “ahead of many of the countries we work with in the Middle East.”
A need for sufficient enforcement capabilities was however essential, Trevor Wheeler, a consultant for WSPA in the Middle East stressed, and willingness to police any new law fully.
The two experts highlighted the need to introduce strict measures regulating Lebanese pet shops, which often grossly neglect the rights of animals.
Findlay said he had witnessed, during his work in Lebanon, pet shops where animals were dying due to a lack of oxygen as they were being kept in such crowded, small enclosures.
It is vital, he said, for the draft law to necessitate that every pet shop owner has a license, which stipulates the size of the shop, and its cages, the conditions in which the animals are kept – including humidity and access to water and appropriate food – and the need for staff trained in dealing with animals.
Written information should also be provided by the pet shop to each new pet owner, he added.
“We are aiming to have the law enacted no later than the end of next year. It might be ambitious but I think we need that ambition to make this campaign successful,” said Jason Mier, the executive director of Animals Lebanon.
Animals Lebanon is running an online petition to gain support for the draft law, and it currently has over 20,000 signatures.