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 user 2006-12-05 at 12:25:00 pm Views: 88
  • #17172

    Dutch raise animal rights to new level
    has been a busy few weeks for Marianne Thieme. Ten days ago, she made
    history as one of two animal-rights candidates to win election to the
    Dutch parliament.They are the first animal-rights MPs anywhere in the
    world.On Thursday 30 November, she and her fellow MP, Esther Ouwehand,
    were sworn in as MPs. Now their real work begins: to persuade the next
    government (which has yet to be formed) to adopt animal-friendly
    policies.”I miss compassion in our society,” Ms Thieme says.”When I
    look at animals, they are innocent. We are treating them like they are
    things, like they are bicycles. That’s not what we have to be as human
    beings. We have common sense and moral awareness, so we have to use
    that as well.”In its manifesto the Party for the Animals (PvdD) says
    protection for animals should not be defined by the market.It wants to
    abolish the biotechnology industry and promote organic agriculture
    instead. It calls for an end to industrial farming practices such as
    castration and tougher penalties for those who abuse animals, as well
    as an end to ritual slaughter without anaesthesia.

    Progressive reputation
    Thieme, 34, a lawyer by training, was one of the founders of the Party
    for the Animals in November 2002. The party only narrowly missed
    winning a parliamentary seat in January 2003. Now it has made the
    breakthrough.The Netherlands, famously liberal, has turned to the right
    in recent years on questions of immigration and integration. But the
    PvdD’s success shows that in other areas it is upholding its reputation
    as one of the most progressive countries in Europe.But what makes the
    Netherlands such an animal-friendly country? Even Britain, famously a
    nation of animal-lovers, has not elected any animal-rights candidates
    to parliament or other assemblies.The Netherlands is a small country,
    one of the most densely populated in the world. The pressures on its
    environment are plain to see.Partly as a result, there is a lot of
    support for, and interest in, organic farming. The market for organic
    food is substantial.But the Netherlands is also one of the largest
    producers in Europe of intensively farmed meat.In 2003, the Netherlands
    was hit by an outbreak of bird flu. Thousands of birds, including pets
    as well as farm birds, were slaughtered. There have also been outbreaks
    of mad cow disease, foot-and-mouth, and most recently the cattle
    disease bluetongue.

    Dark side
    Ridammerhoeve organic goat farm is in the Amsterdam woods within
    earshot of planes taking off from Schiphol airport. Despite this, it is
    the picture of a rural idyll.Chickens scurry through the yard.
    Pot-bellied piglets root around in the straw. Its herd of more than 100
    goats produces milk used to make cheese, butter and other products. The
    farm is also open to visitors, especially children.”For a lot of
    children, it’s surprising that the milk is coming from a goat or a cow.
    They think milk is coming from a bottle and not from an animal,” says
    Willem Dag, who runs the farm with his wife, Corine Riteco.Both of them
    like the idea that the Party for Animals is now in parliament. But Ms
    Riteco has reservations: an animal, she says, should be protected but
    not treated the same as a human being.The Dutch animal-rights movement
    has its dark side. In 2002, an animal-rights activist murdered the
    populist politician Pim Fortuyn. The killer, Volkert van der Graaf,
    wanted to protect vulnerable groups in society, such as immigrants and
    Muslims.The Party for Animals is founded on a principle of
    non-violence. “Gandhi said that the moral progress of a civilisation
    can be measured by the way it treats its animals,” Marianne Thieme
    points out.

    the NOP parrot sanctuary near Eindhoven, staff and volunteers can
    measure that progress daily. More than 3,800 birds are housed
    there.Some are handed in because the owners can no longer care for
    them. Others are rescued from abuse.Last Saturday, Dutch customs
    officials at Schiphol airport uncovered a shipment of 80 smuggled
    birds. More than half had died en route from Mexico. Customs brought
    the survivors to the NOP refuge, where they are now recovering.”We’re a
    small country,” says the sanctuary’s founder, Tonnie van Meegen. “We
    don’t have much but we live with what we have.”He thinks the Party for
    the Animals will be able to make a real difference.”I believe when we
    have a voice in the parliament, talking about what is happening with
    birds and animals, the other members of parliament will hear that.”When
    you never hear something, you don’t know. But when you hear it, you
    give it your mind and you give it your heart.”Ms Thieme hopes the
    success of the Party for the Animals will encourage other similar
    parties across Europe. But she offers some words of advice.”They must
    realise they are pioneers, and that nine out of 10 won’t understand
    what they’re doing. But fortunately, a lot of people don’t want to be
    nine out of 10 anymore.”