Govt talks with farmers collapse over animal rights bill
Representatives of farmers have walked out of talks with the government, announcing a new protest rally, after the ruling coalition tabled a bill introducing what has been labelled as animal police.
The key solutions in the bill reforming the Animal Protection Act include state-run stables for farm animals seized due to neglect or maltreatment, defining grave neglect as torture, introduction of mandatory in-house video surveillance in slaughterhouses, and authorised animal protection advisers.
The latter would be members of animal rights NGOs who would need to undergo prior training prescribed by the Agriculture Ministry, which would empower them to work with official inspection bodies when looking into potential infringements.
It is the latter proposal which sparked furore among farmers, with Anton Medved, president of the Trade Union of Slovenian Farmers, commenting on 18 April that the proposal amounted to "turning livestock farms into a training ground for so-called activists who are supposed to judge the soundness of animal care by breeders on the basis of a 40-hour course".
The proposal was the "straw that broke the camel's back", Medved said, as he announced that farmers were giving up on negotiations with the government. He described the proposal as very humiliating to farmers.
Roman Žveglič, the president of the Chamber of Agriculture and Forestry (KGZS), said the proposal mocked the profession and breeders. Undoubtedly, inappropriate treatment of animals must be prevented and punished, but such a procedure requires a comprehensive professional approach.
The chamber slammed the proposal as devaluation of the veterinary profession, which entails several years of training as opposed to the 40-hour course which should allow activists to assess diligence of care of both farm animals and pets, and could even advise animal attendants.
Medved said Slovenian farmers had never been as united as today. "We are not demanding money or the replacement of the minister, but only the protection of the Slovenian farmer and consumer," he said, announcing a protest rally in Ljubljana on 25 April. They will step up activities if needed.
Farmers entered talks with the government after staging large tractor protests across the country on 24 March in opposition to environmental and other restrictions they say are making it near impossible to continue farming.
Their main demands include adjusting new environmental rules to allowing farming, re-examining and reducing Natura 2000-protected areas, no new taxes, clear and simple rules and adjusting direct payments and other funds they receive to let them cope with inflation.
They want to see a reduction in the population of carnivores and prime agricultural land being protected by law. They want livestock farming to be considered as the basis for sustainable farming, and urge scrapping the regulation on the sustainable use of plant protection products at national level.
Prime Minister Robert Golob, who angered farmers in the past by suggesting people should eat less meat as a way to fight climate change, said that farmer representatives leaving the negotiations with the government so quickly suggested that there might be some other interest behind the move.
Golob said the government entered talks in good faith, believing that the other side did the same. "Such a quick departure makes one think that perhaps something else is behind it - politics, and not the actual interest of farmers. But time will tell what is really behind it," he said.
Commenting on the opposition to the changes to the Animal Protection Act, Golob argued the neighbouring countries had significantly stricter animal protection measures than Slovenia. "I think it's time Slovenia joined civilised Europe or at least its neighbours in this field."
Similarly, the Agriculture Ministry said it was "unusual that the negotiating partners are not honouring the agreement and have not persevered in the search for common solutions to the benefit of farmers and the countryside".
In a move that could open yet another front with the farmers, Golob called on Minister of Natural Resources and Spatial Planning Uroš Brežan to suspend his stamp of approval for the culling of 230 brown bears this year to allow the government to reconsider the matter.