Thursday, April 28, 2011

Two women MPs in the Netherlands are giving animals a voice in Parliament.

Saturday September 27, 2008

Animal crusaders

Two women MPs in the Netherlands are giving animals a voice in Parliament.

On Nov 22, 2006, the world was stunned when Party for the Animals won two seats in the Netherlands’ House of Representatives. The event made history as it was the first time animals had representation in Parliament.

Their two MPs - Marianne Thieme, 36, and Esther Ouwehand, 32, are a breath of fresh air, and no longer ridiculed for wanting to create a more humane world.

The ladies literally stand out in Parliament, not only for their noble cause but for what they wear. In contrast to other MPs who are dressed in suits, the women wear jeans and trendy jackets over short tops, accessorised by simple chains.

Thieme attributes their slim figures and stunning good looks to their vegetarian diet. But don’t be fooled, the ladies are no pushovers when it comes to parliamentary debates.

MPs Marianne Thieme, 36 (right) and Esther Ouwehand, 32.

“I took it as a compliment when the Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality who is responsible for the animals, nature and environment portfolio, had to take on two extra civil servants just so she can answer all our questions in Parliament,’’ says Thieme in an e-mail interview.

“In the past, no one paid any serious attention, even to the existing laws that protect animals. Today, we take to task any governmental body that doesn’t protect animals, and take legal action if necessary,” says Thieme, a lawyer by qualification, who lives with her seven-year-old daughter and two cats she adopted from a shelter.

Her autobiography, The Century Of The Animal, is as much about animal welfare as it is about her, she says. Few consumers realise they are supporting animal cruelty when they make certain purchases.”

Released in 2004 in the Dutch language, the book creates awareness about her party. Its English version is scheduled for release in the Netherlands next February.

Today, the party’s influence is growing at a tremendous pace. It won an additional nine seats in eight provinces in the Netherlands in 2007, and one of the 75 seats in the Dutch Senate.

Thieme adds that as part of her party’s campaign, it wants consumers to learn how to shop intelligently, and choose brands that are animal and environment friendly.

“The public hardly suspects that their purchase of cosmetics, pet food, toothpaste, eggs and other common items have, in all likelihood, caused some form of animal suffering. Is this morally justified when alternatives are easily available?

“A lot of animal experiments consider only commercial interests. We want to ban all animal experiments as soon as possible and we are seeking funding to find more alternatives for consumers.”

Thieme adds most people are not aware that almost all eggs come from battery hens, if there is no label to state they are from “free range” hens. These are hens confined in cages so small they can hardly move. The stress causes them to mutilate other hens. To prevent that, farmers cut off their beaks without anaesthetics (debeak). Billions of male hatchlings that are of no use to hen factories are thrown alive into a grinder.

“Politicians and corporations have always placed economic interests above moral interests. This is now hurting the entire planet,” Thieme recently told the International Press Association members in a speech at The Hague.

Meat for Truth, a documentary produced by Party for the Animals, shows us the livestock farming industry is affecting global warming as it accounts for some 18% of greenhouse gas emissions. That is more than the emissions contributed by all the cars, lorries, trains, boats and planes on earth, which amounts to only 13%.

“The documentary also shows that plant-based food is not only a healthy substitute for meat, but a means to end deforestation and world famine, because much of the grains produced in the world is going towards feeding livestock bred for slaughter,” says Thieme.

Small farmers who practise humane farming are being eradicated by huge conglomerates that treat animals like products and not creatures with feelings.

In her speech, Thieme criticised Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth for ignoring the greenhouse effect of livestock farming and the plight of animals which is intricately linked to man’s own well-being.

“I didn’t know why Gore didn’t address it. Perhaps it was too inconvenient,” she remarked to laughter from the international media.

Even the Netherlands’ Queen was not spared. Thieme wrote a letter to the Prime Minister objecting to the Queen serving foie gras to guests at a State dinner for international dignitaries.

Foie gras is derived from ducks that are force-fed until their livers, abdomens and oesophagus are damaged. Her complaint resulted in the Queen having the item removed from the palace menu.

The Party for the Animals is the only political party that has working groups set up at various locations throughout the Netherlands. They deal with animal welfare issues at a municipal or regional level, and work to influence animal welfare policy.

“In the long term, these working groups may develop into party branches, which may participate in municipal elections. In this way, it is possible that we will eventually also be represented at a municipal level,” says Thieme, who gave up eating meat at 23.

In her book, she says when she realised how animals were tortured by her wrong choices as a consumer, she immediately vowed, “No more in my name!” and took the first step by turning vegetarian.

According to Thieme, her party has today forced other political parties in the Netherlands to adopt a position on animal issues. Since no one wants to appear cruel, politicians are suddenly falling all over each other to say how humane they are.

Party for the Animals also recently launched WorldLog, which is a blog-cum-diary that Thieme updates each week, to inform the international public of their work. It is now available in nine languages at the party’s website

Inspired by the success of Party for the Animals, political parties representing animals have now been created in Austria, Germany, Brazil, and Spain. Thieme will celebrate World Animal Day in Hollywood where Meat For Truth is being screened on Oct 5.