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From 4 April 2004 Issue

Italian Animal Rights Law Puts Lobster Off The Menu
by Bruce Johnston in Rome
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2004/03/07/wlob07.xml&sSheet=/news/2004/03/07/ixworld.html

3/7/04 - Residents in the prosperous Italian town of Reggio Emilia were outraged yesterday after its council adopted an animal rights bylaw that bans boiling live lobster as "useless torture."

Supporters of the move said that it gave animals - both pets and those in the wild - equal rights to man, but local pet-owners criticised it as terrifying political correctness.

Under the bylaw, "sociable" birds such as budgerigars and parrots must be kept in pairs. Birdcages must be at least five times the bird's wingspan in width, and three times in height. It also makes it illegal to keep a goldfish in a round glass bowl. Anyone who breaks the law faces a fine of up to $495 (325).

Davide Nitrosi, a resident, said: "I'd like someone on the council to explain how people are supposed to determine that a bird is 'sociable'. Also, how am I supposed to kill a lobster before cooking it? Hit it on the head?"

Hunting with dogs will be effectively prohibited because of a ban on the animals entering areas where meatballs laced with poison have been found. Another clause requires owners to ensure that each pet sharing a meal gets an equal portion.

A new council office devoted to the protection of "urban fauna" is to be established, with a full-time employee to look after stray cats.

The bylaw is thought to be the first of its kind in Italy, a country not renowned for its humane treatment of animals - but Reggio Emilia, a town of 120,000 people near Bolgna, has one of the highest standards of living in the country, and its administrators say that it can afford to take better care of its pets.

Olga Patacini, a veterinary surgeon, advised councillors to revise the law. "The last law concerning the matter in the city was passed in 1913 when the whole idea of keeping pets was very different," she said.

The law was passed on Friday night after a heated discussion in the town hall, with 22 councillors voting in favour, and only one against. The dissenter Marco Marziani, a councillor with Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia Party, said: "The idea of comparing the rights of an animal to that of human beings completely casts into the shadows the sacred role of human life."

Critics say that the law has only been adopted as a sop to the powerful Green Party faction on the local council, and say that it will harm the local economy. They say that it will prevent amusement park owners from giving away goldfish, chicks and rabbits as prizes. Pet shops will be compelled to ensure that cages, coops and hutches have non-slip surfaces that are sheltered from the sun and wind, and that the animals are displayed in their windows for limited periods.

The law will have particular impact on Reggio Emilia because of its position as Italy's unofficial amateur bird-breeding capital and host of an international bird-breeding festival.

Ivan Gualerzi, a board member of the local chapter of the Italian Ornithologists Federation, complained yesterday that the council had not consulted breeders. He said that the standard size of birdcage used by breeders during the festival, when 12,000 birds were on show in the town, would be outlawed.

"This law is trying to impose standards for animals which fail to take into account their individuality," he said. "They're trying to impose a standard that won't work. The size of a cage depends on the type of bird, and on the individual bird itself. If some birds, such as parrots, are put in too large a space they get depressed."

He said the requirement to have rough floors in birdcages was absurd. "Birds don't slip," he said. Even residents sympathetic to the legislation are dismissive.

"The spirit of the law is good, but in practical terms it's exaggerated and a bit of a mess," said Tiziano Bassoli, a retired butcher and songbird breeder. "It looks like it's been cobbled together in an evening."

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