April 1, 2012
They have a tough time putting up with us humans. A new law on ethical treatment may help

Savage Garden may sing paeans for life of animals, the truth is they have a tough time putting up with us humans. India is soon going to have a law with better provisions to ensure ethical treatment of animals.  

Dr Manilal Valliyate, the director of veterinary affairs at PETA, shares his thoughts on how the proposed law will make us more humane.

Q. Since a new draft bill has been drafted on the issue of animal welfare, where was the earlier Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act lacking?

The draft is currently under consideration and could undergo further change. However a key difference in the draft Animal Welfare Act 2011 is the update in penalty for cruelty to animals.

The existing Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act came in to effect in 1960 and lacks the teeth required for effectively implementing the law. Currently the penalty for cruelty to animals is between Rs 10 to 50 for the first offence, which may go up to Rs 100 for a subsequent offence or up to three months in prison. The draft Bill, if passed in its current form, would result in the penalty for cruelty to animals being between Rs 10,000 and 25,000 or imprisonment for up to two years – or both – for a first offence. For a subsequent offence, the penalty would be between 50,000 rupees and one lakh rupees and imprisonment for one to three years. The draft bill is also far more geared towards animal welfare than just animal protection. It recognises the five freedoms which are requirements for good animal welfare. They are:

  • Freedom from Hunger and Thirst
  • Freedom from Discomfort
  • Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease
  • Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour
  • Freedom from Fear and Distress

Farm animals are also covered in the proposed Act and killing them in any way other than that which is prescribed in the draft will be considered an offense. Killing them in unlicenced backyard butcheries or by hacking at them will dull knives on the street will be prohibited.

Q. In what ways you feel the draft Bill is better?

The banning of animals in circuses following the lead of Bolivia and Greece and banning the sale of glass-coated manja which harms countless birds every year would be great life-saving measures. Circuses keep animals chained or in cages when they are forced to perform out of the fear of being hit or other punishment. For experimentation purposes, the draft bill proposes that if alternatives are available, it is mandated that they must be used. It also states that it is the duty of the research facility to ensure it has a rehabilitation scheme in place for the animals as part of their planning to do experiments. Under the new rules, the person committing the crime can be fined more quickly, on the spot, which will allow better enforcement rather than always having to go via the court.

Q. Since with each Act we find problem with implementation, do you think the proposed legislation will be easier to enforce? Are there precise definitions to help law enforcers and check guesswork?

One key proposal in the draft bill is to set up animal welfare boards at the state-level with increased funds and powers to ensure that the law could be implemented even in rural areas of India. One of the primary functions of the state level board is to “ensure that the Act and the Rules framed under this Act are given widespread publicity in the State, and that due and adequate training is provided to all government officers who are required to enforce the provisions of this Act and the Rules made there under”. With these arrangements, and with more significant penalties for animal abuse, the new Act should be easier to enforce. The draft has more clearly defined the act of cruelty in general leaving less space for guesswork.

Q. Does the draft Bill also provide for separate law enforcement team?

As per the new act the state level Animal Welfare Board will function to improve public awareness on animal protection laws, will advise the state or union territories on animal welfare issues, will make rules and implement them with the approval of the State Government or union territory. The law enforcement team will continue to be the municipalities, Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) and the Police Department.

Q. Does India have adequate vet doctors to offer prompt care to animals in need? If not, is there are a proposal to deal with the shortage?

Most animals used for experiments, performance, for work or those on the street never see a veterinarian in their lifetime. There is no shortage of veterinarians in India, but there is a need to make them available, accessible and affordable to all kinds of animals.

Q. Scientists claim there is ambiguity in the proposed law related to experimentation. How you think the Act balances between the need for scientific research and prevention of cruelty against animals?

Animals in laboratories are kept in stressful conditions and routinely subjected to extremely painful procedures. They are caged and denied everything that is natural and important to them. Monkeys, social animals in nature, are often caged alone. The frustration drives many animals insane. These animals are burned, shocked, poisoned, starved, forcibly restrained, addicted to drugs and brain-damaged before being kicked out later.

During experiments, it becomes difficult to tell if the animal is sick from stress, upset from loneliness or suffering the ill effects of a disease. In addition to the ethical issues, we must remember there profound differences in anatomy, physiology and biochemistry between humans and animals. Results from experiments on animals cannot be accurately extrapolated to humans. In case after case, experiments on animals have proved to be poor predictors about how humans will respond to drugs, treatments or diseases. Animal experiments don’t persist because they are the best science; they persist because of experimenters’ personal biases and archaic traditions. Progressive scientists are moving away from, not toward, animal tests.

Q. What are the non-animal methods which researchers can adopt? Has there been technological advancement in other parts of the world which should be replicated in India?

Effective, affordable and humane research methods include studies of human populations, volunteers and patients as well as sophisticated in vitro, genomic and computer-modelling techniques. Sophisticated human cell- and tissue-based research methods allow researchers to test the safety and effectiveness of new drugs, vaccines and chemical compounds. The Hurel biochip, for example, uses living human cells to detect the effects of a drug or chemical on multiple interacting organs. VaxDesign's Modular Immune In vitro Construct System uses human cells to create a working dime-size human immune system for testing vaccines. Harvard researchers have developed a human tissue-based "lung-on-a-chip" that can "breathe" and be used to estimate the effects of inhaled chemicals on the human respiratory system. Human tissue-based methods are also used to test the potential toxicity of chemicals and for research into burns, allergies, asthma and cancer. The US National Disease Research Interchange provides more than 130 kinds of human tissue to scientists investigating more than 50 medical conditions, including cancer, diabetes and glaucoma. Cell and tissue cultures are used to screen new therapies and to test for product safety.

Clinical research on humans also provides great insights into the effects of drugs and how the human body works. A research method called "microdosing" can provide information on the safety of an experimental drug and how it is metabolized in the body by administering an extremely small one-time dose that is well below the threshold necessary for any potential pharmacologic effect to take place.

Q. Issues like overloading of a bullock (or ox) cart, transportation of animals and use of force to get an animal to work have also been dealt with in the draft bill. Do you think there will be an impact on the ground or the law will only act as another lip service?

Animals used for work are overworked, underfed, mistreated and appallingly undervalued. As a result of cruel industry practices, millions of animals suffer from a host of ailments, including bruises and neck, back and leg injuries. Such practices include whipping, hot-iron branding, firing, blistering, nose-slitting, ear-cutting, restrictive hitching (of ponies and bullocks), crude castration, unprofessional shoeing methods and the use of painful devices such as wires, nails, nose ropes and spiked bits. All these practices ultimately stem from a callous and uninformed mindset as well as old-fashioned traditions and attitudes.State level Animal Welfare Boards assigned with more power should help improve enforcement, however, there are many wealthy industries using animals that have the resources to transport their goods through other modern non-animal means. These industries must shift to modern modes of transporting their goods.