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Thailand’s National Legislative Assembly (NLA) yesterday (November 13) passed the first ever Animal Welfare Bill in the country, designed to punish people who abuse or neglect animals. The Bill was passed by a vote of 188-1, with four abstentions.
But the Phuket-based Soi Dog Foundation (SDF), which advised the NLA and is probably the most powerful lobby in Thailand for decent treatment of animals, today expressed disappointment that the new bill does not go far enough.
It prohibits cruel treatment of animals and stipulates that owners/carers must provide appropriate living conditions and a certain level of animal welfare.
The law allows police to enter homes and businesses to act on reports of animal cruelty. The maximum sentence for perpetrators is two years in jail and/or a B40,000 fine.
SDF Foundation co-founder and Vice President John Dalley, who advised the NLA on what should be included in the Bill, said “While welcoming the passing of Thailand’s first Animal Welfare Bill as a step in the right direction, SDF Foundation has serious concerns over the lack of clarity in the legislation.
“All other animal welfare laws throughout the world provide very specific guidelines to enable authorities to determine what is legal and what is illegal.”
He was referring specifically to a clause in the law which allows the killing of animals for food “which are usually considered as food”.
The committee responsible for reviewing the Bill stated that dogs and cats are not regarded as food in Thailand, and that therefore they are implicitly covered by the bill, but they have avoided explicitly stating which type of animals it will be illegal to kill for consumption.
Mr Dalley added, “It’s similar to introducing a law on driving too fast. Without specifying speed limits, the decision is left to individual police officers, and the courts, who may have different ideas as to whether a motorist was speeding or not. It is totally open to interpretation.”
The issue was raised at yesterday’s parliamentary meeting, and a notation added to this effect, meaning that in the future a committee that is to be formed to manage the law may consider clarifying the issue.
No mention is made in the law as to whether it is legal or illegal to kill a pet animal for its skin.
The northeast of Thailand, close to the border with Laos, is home to Thailand’s dog meat and dog skin trade which, according to the Thai Veterinary Medical Association, has seen up to 500,000 dogs a year slaughtered and processed in Thailand or Laos, or exported to Vietnam and China for human consumption.
The industry, SDF asserts, is run by organised criminal gangs and is worth up to US$25 million (B750 million) a year. The SDF has been at the forefront of a campaign to end the trade in Thailand in dogs for food or leather.
Mr Dalley concluded, “The only way a law can be measured for effectiveness is how it affects the level of crime it is meant to stop.
“The coming months will indicate whether the authorities are able to enforce the law as it stands now. Without clear guidelines, we fear the authorities will be reluctant to act in many cases.”
The work of the SDF can been seen here and here.