Animal Welfare Legislation

Review of Animal Welfare Legislation in Hong Kong

Associate Professor of Law, Amanda Whitfort and Deputy Director of Welfare, Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Hong Kong), Dr Fiona Woodhouse, have released a full review of Hong Kong's animal welfare legislation. The research was conducted through the University of Hong Kong Law Faculty's Centre for Comparative and Public Law and took two years to complete. It was funded by the Research Grants Council and the Central Policy Unit of the Hong Kong Government.

The review has found Hong Kong's anti cruelty legislation lacks the necessary power to assist animals in danger of suffering and abuse. The law, as it now stands, was enacted in 1935, and can only be enforced against an owner where an animal has already been the victim of an overt act of cruelty. Currently, nothing can be done under the law to protect animals in serious danger of suffering, unless or until they are seriously harmed. Authorities must stand by and wait for a neglected animal to have been harmed by its owner before the law allows them to do anything at all to help. The authors recommend significant reform to the anti cruelty laws, through the introduction of a new Animal Welfare Ordinance, which would impose on owners a positive duty to care properly for their animals. Such a law would not only protect animals which have already been harmed but also protect those in serious danger of harm, if the circumstances in which they are being kept do not change. Such laws may be already being enforced in other common law jurisdictions including the UK, USA, Australia and New Zealand.

The review also found that licensing conditions for pet shops are seriously out of date when compared with those imposed in other common law jurisdictions, including Singapore. Animal traders need not demonstrate any suitability for caring for animals, or provide animal welfare training to their staff. The Agricultural, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) has no power to revoke an animal trader's licence if a trader has been convicted of an animal cruelty offence. There is no requirement for pet shops to have vet care agreements in place to ensure animals have ready access to veterinary care. There are no legislated enclosure size requirements imposed on pet shops which do not engage in breeding, and there is no requirement to give exercise to dogs kept for sale.

The continued lack of legislation controlling hobby breeders allows animals of dubious origin and health to be widely sold. The AFCD advised, during the course of the review, that there are currently only two licensed breeders in Hong Kong, with the remaining animals offered for sale coming from hobby breeders or from import dealers. Whilst hobby breeders remain unregulated, Hong Kong's control of unlicensed puppy and kitten farming rates on a par with that of the worst jurisdictions in the world.

The review also noted serious failures at local slaughterhouses in meeting basic animal welfare standards. Slaughterhouse workers routinely hit animals with electric goads on power cords, sticks and pipes, tie their legs, and force them to hobble up ramps to slaughter pens. Animals are overcrowded, suffer from heat exhaustion and are not provided with consistent access to water. The voltage used to stun pigs is also lower than that used in other common law jurisdictions, such that the animals are still conscious of pain when stuck and hoisted.

The welfare of most animals kept on local farms and sold at wet markets is also inadequately protected by current legislation. The majority of local farms currently keep pigs and chickens, yet the outdated laws address only the welfare of cattle, sheep and goats.

The review rejects any legal impediments to a government approved Trap-Neuter-Return programme (TNR) for feral dogs in Hong Kong and recommends this method as the only humane way to deal with the problem. TNR programmes are supported by WHO data and the OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health), and are utilized effectively for managing feral or community dog populations in Australia, USA, Canada, India, Europe, parts of Africa, South America and the UAE.

Throughout the 180 page review, the authors provide recommendations for extensive amendment to laws, regulations and codes of practice affecting the welfare of animals kept as pets, sold for food, used for experimentation in labs and living wild in Hong Kong.

To view the full report, please click here.