Legislation on breeding of animals is already existing in many countries. Specific legislation on selective breeding of animals with genetic disorders are also in place. These laws highlight that breeding is not permitted if the animals selected for breeding experience a reduced quality of life by having physical disabilities, enduring chronic pain or not being able to express the full range of their behaviours.
Legislative examples in Europe
Animal welfare laws in various European countries prohibit selective breeding for traits that have a negative effect on the health and welfare of animals.
- The German Animal Welfare Act prohibits the breeding of animals if offspring are likely to inherit body parts or organs unsuited for appropriate use or likely to cause pain, suffering or damage.
- The Austrian Animal Welfare Act stipulates that it is forbidden to cause pain and suffering. Specifically, it states that if it is foreseeable that pain, suffering, physical damage or fear would accompany an animal, then its breeding is forbidden. The Austrian Animal Welfare act includes a long list of genetic disorders, including shortness of breath, abnormal movement, inflammation of the skin, hairlessness, neurological symptoms, deformities of the skull, and body shapes that no longer allow natural births.
- The UK Animal Welfare Act stipulates that dogs cannot be used for breeding if their health, genotype and phenotype are likely to have adverse health effects on their offspring.
Breed standards demand perfection
Breed standards are guidelines set by the breed associations or breed clubs and regulated by the FCI (Fédération Cynologique Internationale), which is used to ensure that the dogs that are bred are conform to the specifics of the breed they belong to. In the breed standards for each breed, certain criteria are laid down covering externally observable qualities such as appearance, movement and temperament. The breed standard for French Bulldogs for example indicates, that French Bulldogs should be compactly built and have a round head. The shortened upper jaw and the snub nose are additional desired traits. However, the standards also state that normal nasal breathing must be possible. Looking at French Bulldogs today, it becomes apparent that many of them no longer meet this standard, their breeding for appearance has been taken too far.
Enforcement is difficult
Even though there are legislations in place in many countries already, the breeding of animals with genetic disorders has not ceased. One of the main issues it that often the definition of suffering is unclear. The lines are blurred and follow up on the breeding of dogs is lacking.
A positive example is a recent development in the Netherlands. The legislation regarding breeding of pets in the Netherlands was changed with the aim to improve the health of pets. The Dutch government accepted a law on this matter in 2014, which prohibits the breeding of about 20 short-snouted dog breeds, as defined by the system of head measurement, using traffic light color-classification. Only dogs with the length of a muzzle at least a third of the head are allowed to breed.
This step in the right direction should be monitored closely, to see the improvements of the health of the dogs affected. If the course of action taken by the Netherlands results in healthier animals, this course should be followed by other countries as well.