As a federal republic, the laws that protect animals in Mexico vary widely from state to state. Guest writer Kitty Tench will explore what this has meant for animal protection and whether there are any plans to improve standards.
The current position
The Federal Criminal Code of Mexico applies to all the states and the Federal District (Mexico City). There are no existing animal welfare stipulations here, and Mexico’s Federal law does not recognise animal sentience. However, there are some provisions in the law regarding animal care.
The Federal Animal Health Act (2007) provides basic principles on animal welfare, with provisions referring to the Five Freedoms, although this is only in relation to preserving animal health, largely for the purpose of regulating goods of animal origin for human consumption. The General Wildlife Law (2000) contains some welfare provisions for wild animals.
The Official Mexican Standards at Federal level also include some animal protection provisions. For example, the Official Mexican Law Norm-033-Zoo-1995 Humane Killing of Domestic and Wild Animals (“Norm-033”) provides federal standards for the humane slaughter or anaesthesia of farm, domestic and wild animals, including the stipulation that farm and wild animals (used for human consumption) must be stunned before slaughter.
As a Federal Republic, each state and the Federal District (Mexico City) has its own constitution and legislation, and most states have their own legislative provisions on animal welfare, although this varies widely.
Some states have legislated extensively on animal welfare, such as the Federal District (Mexico City); following amendments in 2017, the Constitution of Mexico City formally recognises all animals as sentient beings. World Animal Protection considers recognising animals as sentient in legislation to set an important standard for animal welfare considerations in a jurisdiction. The state of Michoacán de Ocampo have also explicitly recognised all non-human animals as sentient beings under the Law of Rights and Protection for Animals (2018), which also enshrines the Five Freedoms in law, so that cruel treatment such as deprivation of food and water is prohibited.
Other states recognise animal pain and provide protections to varying degrees. The state of Campeche’s Animal Protection Act (1997) suggests an understanding that animals are capable of feeling pain, although these protections exclude invertebrates, and do not explicitly include wild animals. The state of Chiapas is even more limited in its protection of animals, as animal cruelty is not a criminal offence in any capacity in the state’s Penal Code.
Why are animals in Mexico vulnerable?
The absence of animal welfare stipulations in the Federal Criminal Code of Mexico (Código Penal Federal) leave animals vulnerable to abuse in states that have not produced comprehensive legislation that prohibits animal abuses. Currently, the only protection afforded to these animals lies in limited Federal provisions.
The Federal Animal Health Act (2007) only considers animal welfare in relation to animal health provisions, so the requirements of the act are not comprehensive regarding the needs of animals in accordance with their capacity for physical and psychological pain. Also, overall responsibility for animal welfare in Mexico has not been assigned to a Government Ministry. The 2007 act is overseen by the Ministry of Health, the Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food; the General Wildlife Law (2000) is implemented by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources. There is therefore a lack of clarity, consistency and commitment to animal welfare issues in the implementation of legislation at the Federal level.
Animal protection regulations under the Federal Standards, including Norm-033, are also limited. Federal Standards are not carefully constructed legislation based on principle and reason, and usually only provide regulations for specific circumstances. This does not provide a wide scope of protection to animals. Compliance to regulations is also unreliable due to the limited enforcement of the Federal Standards. Breaches to Norm-033, as well as breaches to the animal welfare stipulations of the Federal Animal Health Act (2007) are implemented by the Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food, and are only punishable as an administrative offence. Punishments include the suspension of licences, closure of premises and a financial penalty. A breach to these regulations does not amount to a criminal offence.
Violations to the General Wildlife Law (2000) are also punishable with fines and the suspension of licences. For some offences under the act, punishments available also include an administrative arrest of up to 36 hours, and community service relating to wildlife conservation. This act, however, only protects wild animals.
While most state criminal codes contain animal welfare provisions prohibiting abuses to animals, penalties for such abuse are absent in Chiapas’ criminal code. While Chiapas has passed the Law for the Protection of Fauna (2014) which defines some acts of cruelty relating to pain and suffering, these acts of cruelty are not criminalised in the state’s Penal Code. Welfare considerations for animals in Chiapas are therefore only enforced according to Secretariat regulations, and the only deterrent for perpetrators of animal cruelty would be the punishments attached to administrative offences.
In Mexico, Animal Equality has proposed a constitutional reform to grant the Congress of the Union the power to legislate on animal welfare issues. The legislation, presented by Animal Equality together with Federal Deputy Fausto Gallardo García of the Green Ecologist Party of Mexico, was approved on January 25th 2023 by the Constitutional Points Commission of the Chamber of Deputies. The Plenary of the Chamber of Deputies went on to approve the proposal on March 30th 2023, after Animal Equality presented 100,000 petition signatures in support of the changes to the Congress in the Union. The reform now awaits approval from the Senate of the Republic of Mexico.
The proposed reform would amend Article 73 of the Political Constitution of the Mexican United States, specifically Fraction XXIX-G. This article currently grants Congress the power to legislate on environmental protection, preservation and restoration; the reform would manifest legislative separation of the environment and animals as different entities that require individualised consideration.
This amendment would give Congress the express power to create a General Animal Welfare Law, which would mandate standards of animal welfare that must be applied across the Mexican states, regardless of state legislation. State law would be permitted to expand upon the points of animal protection within the General Law in their own legislation, but not to restrict these points.
Animal Equality is also working on presenting a proposal to amend Article Four of the Mexican Constitution to the Senate. This article would be reformed to recognise any non-human animal with a complex nervous system as a sentient being.
This is undoubtedly progress in favour of animals, which will lay the foundations and be an example for the entire country. This reform to the [Constitution] supports the idea that animals are sentient beings and we have obligations towards them.
Dulce Ramírez, Animal Equality Vice President of Latin America
Will animals be protected following the proposed constitutional changes?
The key reform proposed by Animal Equality and the Green Ecologist Party of Mexico is to change the Mexican Constitution to specifically grant Congress the express power to legislate on animal welfare issues. This change would make it possible for a General Animal Welfare Law to pass under federal jurisdiction, providing a foundation for animal welfare that would be obligatory at all legislative levels. This would allow for a new legally enforceable standard of protection for animals, consistent across all Mexican states. Animals living in states such as Chiapas, that currently provide no or very little welfare enforcements, would be protected by new welfare regulations.
General laws originate in constitutional clauses, so once enacted, must be applied by federal, state and municipal authorities. General laws will also distribute powers to these three levels of government, establishing which authorities must regulate, monitor and apply various elements of the law.
The Animal Protection Index (“API”), formulated by World Animal Protection, has given Mexico’s animal welfare policy and legislation a C ranking. The API report recommends, among other suggestions, that the Federal Government of Mexico creates a national multi-stakeholder committee to guide the country's policies and strategies on animal welfare to fall in line with international standards. A General Animal Welfare Law could allocate responsibility for such a committee to be created, and therefore improve animal welfare standards in Mexico as the API suggests it would.
Animal Equality’s proposal to amend Article Four of the Mexican Constitution to recognise all animals with a complex nervous system as sentient beings in Mexico’s Constitution is significant, because, as a constitutional principle, law-makers would be obligated to consider the specific needs of animals according to their capacity to suffer when formulating animal welfare legislation. Enshrining the recognition of animal sentience also fulfils another one of the World Animal Protection’s API recommendations.
While amending Article 73 of the Mexican Constitution will not guarantee that a General Animal Welfare Law will be passed by Congress, the reform will provide the essential structure required to enact a General Law on animal welfare issues. Additionally, recognising animal sentience in the Mexican Constitution would create a constitutional principle that should improve animal welfare considerations in future legislative decisions.
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