THE HAGUE Rabbits and birds may no longer be kept in a pen or cage, while dog owners may have to forego a leash in the Netherlands from 2023 onwards. This is the result of a proposed new animal protection law that aims to reorient the debate about animal rights, which was approved by the Dutch Senate late last month with virtually no media attention at the time.

The Amsterdam-based Het Parool daily reports that the new law, introduced by the small but influential Party for the Animals, updates previous legislation to require that animals are able to exhibit "natural behavior," and must no longer suffer pain or discomfort when kept in stables, pens or cages. It is primarily aimed at owners of livestock who must ensure that pigs, for example, have enough room to roll around in the mud.

Dutch farmers, who have previously protested against a government plan to combat nitrogen emissions, are strongly opposed to the new bill that they fear will undermine their businesses and put an end to intensive livestock farming. The Netherlands Minister of Agriculture, Carola Schouten, is currently analyzing the law to determine what it would mean in practice. "It's very openly formulated," she said according to Het Parool. The new law would go into effect on January 1, 2023.

Whether the law will also apply to pet owners is not yet clear. After it was first introduced in April, it was met with raised eyebrows by many questioning its feasibility. It will be difficult to enforce, according to Bas Rodenburg, Professor of Animal Welfare at the University of Utrecht and cited by the Dutch broadcaster, NOS. "There are millions of pet owners. How are you going to check them all?"

The law was proposed by the Party for the Animals, a left-leaning party founded in 2002, that is believed to be the only animal rights party with national legislative power. It currently occupies 3 out of 75 seats in the Senate and 6 out of 150 seats in the House of Representatives. It advocates for animal rights and welfare, as well as for action to reverse global warming.

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