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This week's guest writer, Nisha Cardoza, discusses animal protection law in Switzerland. When were animals recognized as “not-things”?

Switzerland could be considered one of the leading countries when it comes to animal welfare in Europe. Under Swiss law, animals were formally recognized as “not-things” in 2003[[1]]( (Civil Code, Art. 641a). Thus, according to Swiss legislation, animals should be cared for in harmony with their breed and specific needs. The Netherlands and Germany made similar changes in 2011 and 1990, respectively. The European Union formally recognized animal sentience in 2008 with Article 13 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).

What follows is a brief overview of the Swiss Federal Law on the protection of animals and five statutes relating to their protection at different stages of life and the regulations put in place concerning the keeping of animals for consumption.

The Animal Welfare Act and its statute The Animal Welfare Act was enacted in 1981 together with the statute on the protection of animals (OPAn). This act was subsequently revised and the current Animal Welfare Act was enacted in September, 2008. The Animal Welfare Act (LPA) aims to protect the dignity and welfare of vertebrate animals, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, birds and fish.

Under this act, animals are protected from unnecessary suffering (LPA, Art. 4.2). The keeping of animals is allowed, provided a number of regulations are respected. Animals that are being kept have to be fed, cared for, and guaranteed an environment in which they are free to move (LPA, Art. 6.1). The LPA prohibits the slaughter of mammals without prior stunning (LPA, Art. 21.1). Exception is made for the religious slaughtering of chickens. Therefore, except for poultry, kosher and halal meat, from animals who’ve been killed without prior stunning, can only be purchased in Switzerland if it has been imported. As a result of the Animal Welfare Act, controls are carried out by the respective Cantonal authorities and a trained veterinarian is responsible for the enforcement of the law in each canton (LPA, Art. 32a, 33). The maximum stocking density on a farm is limited to 300 veal calves, 1500 pigs and 18000 hens.

The statute on the protection of animals (OPAn) came into force at the same time as the Animal Welfare Act. The statute concerns vertebrate animals, cephalopods (mollusks, cuttlefish, octopuses, squids, nautiluses) and decapods (crayfish, crabs, lobsters, prawns, shrimp) and provides more specific information about which practices are permitted to ensure their well-being. Firstly, social animals such as guinea pigs, budgerigars and goldfish are not allowed to be kept alone (OPAn, Art. 13). Secondly, animals are not allowed to be constantly kept on a leash (OPAn, Art. 3). It is illegal to cut piglet's tails off (OPAn, Art. 18), farrowing crates for sows are only allowed to be used during gestation for a maximum of 10 days (OPAn, Art. 48) and a few days before the sow gives birth. Straw or other appropriate material also has to be available so that she can make a nest (OPAn, Art. 50). Lastly, the place in which domestic animals spend the most time, has to let daylight enter (OPAn, Art. 33).

What specific guidelines exist for domestic and farmed animals?

In 2008, another statute came into force which concerned domestic and farmed animals. Veterinarians and other relevant experts gave their input into this law. This statute concerns topics such as perforated floors, adequate shelter and fodder requirements when the animals are outside and regulations relating to the keeping of calves. Perforated floors are allowed for cattle, pigs, sheep and goats but have to be adapted to the animals’ size (Art. 2).

The same year, the Department of the Interior enacted a statute relating to people whose work in some way involved animals (eg.: a farmer, a slaughterhouse employee, or a truck driver transporting animals). The main purpose of the statute was to ensure that people dealing with animals would receive appropriate training regarding correct treatment. Certain training courses were made compulsory and ongoing training was encouraged to enhance animal protection.

How must farmed animals be slaughtered?

Concerning the slaughter of animals, a statute came into force in December, 2010. This statute concerns the same types of animals as the statute on the protection of animals (OPAn). Within four hours of their arrival at the slaughterhouse, animals such as cattle, sheep, goats and pigs must be slaughtered (OPAnAb, Art. 4 455.110.2). Chickens have to be stunned between twelve and sixty seconds after being hung upside down (OPAnAb, Art. 14).

How is the breeding of animals regulated?

Lastly, in 2015, a statute came into force that regulated the way in which animals were bred. This statute, however, does not apply to laboratory animal husbandry. The statute stipulates the level of suffering that is deemed acceptable, which animals are not allowed to be bred (including dwarf dogs which, when they reach adulthood, weigh less than 1500 g, cats whose front legs are extremely shortened (kangaroo cats), reptiles with enigma syndrome) (Art.10), and what characteristics and symptoms can lead to moderate or severe constraints on an animal’s wellbeing (deformation of skeleton, skull impacting teeth, eyes and respiratory capacities, among others).

What loopholes exist?

Although Switzerland has enacted many legal documents to ensure animal protection, the enforcement of these laws has not been sufficient. The Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office found that some slaughterhouses did not fully comply with the rules, especially in small-scale abattoirs. It is also important to note that state employed veterinarians depend on farmers for their job, and therefore find themselves in an obvious conflict of interest. Due to a lack of resources, some stages of the required procedure are not checked properly, especially during slaughter. Moreover, controls carried out by cantonal authorities are scarce (OPAn, Art. 213, Art. 215). Pet shops, for example, only have to be checked once a year, and if, after two consecutive years, no misconduct has been reported, the establishment can go unchecked for three years.


In conclusion, despite the substantial progress Switzerland has made from a legal perspective relating to the treatment of animals, it appears that there is still much room for improvement, in particular, when it comes to the transparent and effective implementation of protective laws and regulations.

There are several ways the system could be improved to ensure the better treatment of animals. This might involve cantons carrying out controls with independent officials who visit farms frequently and always unannounced. Like the U.K slaughterhouses could put in place mandatory CCTV. Furthermore, if something is deemed unethical and illegal in Switzerland it should also not be permitted to be imported, this would include foie gras, frog legs and meat from animals not stunned before slaughter.

Tier Im Recht (TIR) is a Swiss non-profit organization, dedicated to helping animals through better animal welfare legislation. You can find more information about their work on their website.

Getting Advice

This post is not legal advice and should not be relied on as such. If you require legal advice on animal protection laws please contact

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