The Italian Almanac

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Outlawed Animals

MPs have announced a bipartisan drive to outlaw the use of animals in circuses. A new draft law, which has also won backing from animal associations and celebrities, would phase in a prohibition on the use of all animals in circus acts. The bill`s chief signatory, a Sicilian politician from the centre-right People of Freedom party, Gabriella Giammanco, stressed the measure was not meant to crush circuses but to encourage alternative acts. ``Circuses currently survive only thanks to state funding and if state money is being used, I think animals and their nature should be respected,`` she said. ``The use of animals is no longer tolerable. It is anachronistic and superfluous``.

The measure, which has received enthusiastic backing from the shadow environment minister, Ermete Realacci of the Democratic Party, would end all state entertainment grants to circuses that use animals. The bill would also prohibit foreign circuses with animals from entering Italy and envisions the creation of a new Environment Ministry committee to oversee the phasing out of all national animal acts. The proposed committee would ensure animals currently used are found appropriate new homes and help circuses organize alternative acts.

Antonio Buccioni, head of the Circus Association and deputy chair of the Italian Entertainment Association, said the proposed law was not needed. ``Circuses have already moved about 90% in this direction voluntarily,`` he said. However, animal associations insist there is a problem. The head of the National Association for the Protection of Animals, Carla Rocchi, said circus animals are ``locked up in a kind of concentration camp``.

Although the deliberate abuse of animals is forbidden under Italian law, regulation of how performing animals are treated is minimal. Organizers are not allowed to use animals in a way that forces them to act ``against their instincts``, while an EU regulation sets out basic health care standards for circus animals. However, the only national norms dealing directly with circuses are guidelines issued by the environment ministry`s scientific committee, which deal specifically with protected species.

Giammanco`s bill is the latest in a series of legislative initiatives aimed at outlawing animals in circuses.