'India more progressive than US on animal welfare policies'

New Delhi: India's recent policy decisions to ban the testing of cosmetics and their ingredients on animals and its ban on using captive dolphins for public entertainment anywhere in the country, make it more progressive than the Unites States in matters of animal rights, say experts.

Earlier this year, on 17 May, India's Ministry of Environment and Forests banned keeping dolphins in captivity for public performances .

The ministry said, “Whereas cetaceans in general are highly intelligent and sensitive, and various scientists who have researched dolphin behavior have suggested that the unusually high intelligence; as compared to other animals means that dolphin should be seen as ‘non-human persons’ and as such should have their own specific rights and is morally unacceptable to keep them captive for entertainment purpose.”

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Close on its heels, on 28 June, India banned the testing of cosmetics and their ingredients on animals, becoming the first country in Asia to do so at a panel meeting of the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) in New Delhi. The announcement was made by GN Singh, Drug Controller General of India.

By way of being the first country in Asia to ban the testing of cosmetics in Asia, "India is leading by example", Poorva Joshipura, CEO, PETA India told Firstpost. "The US is not as progressive when it comes to animal protection. It is far behind and needs to needs to catch up," she said.

The Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organization (FIAPO) along with PETA India have been leaders in the push towards treating intelligent cetaceans better. Arpan Sharma, Director external relations FIAPO says that while number of activists and organizations that deal with animal welfare in India are still a very small, India ups America in animal welfare.

"The gold standard in animal welfare is really set by Europe. America on the contrary has exploitative practices. The focus for them is not on welfare, it is on profit. India is surely more progressive than the US on these issues, Sharma told Firstpost.

"Society in the US has a very utilitarian world view, where they want to see what is the most use that anything can be to them, that's why they have never been on top of animal welfare," he said.


While PETA's Joshipura says this increased awareness on India's part is part of a larger trend in other parts of the world to move towards treating animals more humanely, Sharma credits the maturing of India's civil society as having played a huge role in these new policy decisions.

"India is just catching up to other countries following the EU and Israel, which have already banned the testing of cosmetics on animals. India also has a cultural reverence for animals and it would be shameful for India not to be kind to animals," Joshipura said.

Sharma has another explanation for the way animal rights and welfare is headed in India.

"These decisions are really political decisions in the sense that if a large population is pushing for something, the government needs to formulate policy -- and this is what has happened even in animal welfare. What we are seeing in India is the maturing of civil society towards the cause of protecting animals. All of these movements created the necessary environment and pressure for these changes to come about," Sharma explains.


While there is much jubilation among animal activists about India's recent policy decisions in animal welfare, there is also a sense of caution about its implementation. Activists also note that while India has taken a first step in animal rights protection, there is much more that needs to be done.

"While it's a wonderful thing that India is leading the way in banning cosmetic testing on animals, one can still buy products that have tested on animals in other countries. This is unlike the EU and Israel, where the ban is a blanket ban. The testing of cosmetics and their ingredients on animals are banned, but they have also banned the sale and marketing of products that test on animals, even in another country," Joshipura said.

This ban was brought about by the BIS, the national standards body which formulates the standards of food and consumer durables, but the body is now allowed to monitor and legislate what can be sold and what cannot be sold in India. "Right now what we have achieved the end to the testing. We need to go and expand it to become a marketing and sales ban too, she said.

Sharma of the FIAPO says that while the dolphin policy is a landmark and a paradigm shift in the way we look at cetaceans - its is the first time that a national government has recognized that dolphins "should be treated as non-human persons, should have their own specific rights, and (it) is morally unacceptable to keep them captive for entertainment" -- there's still a huge amount of work to be done as far as treating farm animals and animals raised for human consumption are concerned.

"We are going the US way with this in India," Sharma said.

"According to the Livestock census of 2003, annually we raise and kill 450 million chicken, of these 200 million are egg laying hens and of these between 60-80 percent are in battery cages, where each bird gets not more than a space equal to an A4 sized paper for a span of about a year -- which is their entire life. At a very young age they are also debeaked. This is a big area where we need legislative change and battery cages need to be banned. We also have the largest dairy herd in the world of about 200 million cattle and our conditions for transporting them and keeping them are pathetic, sharia said.

"I would say the next big challenges for animal welfare in India is what we do with our poultry and dairy."

While India has recently been active in the animal welfare space, violation are still aplenty, said Sharma, "But, that is no reason not to bring about good legislation. Something is always better than nothing."

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