Since 1972 killing a vertebrate animal without ‘acceptable justification’ (vernunftiger Grund) constitutes a crime in Germany (Article 17 No. 1 Animal Protection Act). Globally, there are very few countries possessing a similar prohibition. Since both the enforcement of the Animal Protection Act and the responsibility for disease control belong to the duties of the veterinary authorities, the killing of animals for disease control purposes frequently raises the question if there is an ‘acceptable justification’.
The prohibition of killing a vertebrate without ‘acceptable justification’ is based on both Reverence for Life, which is widespread in German-speaking countries, and the Principle of Proportionality, an important discovery initially made in the German legal system, which today (together with the Principle of Subsidiarity) governs the use of EU competences (Article 5, Treaty on European Union).
Therefore, along the way, the idea of specific preconditions for the acceptable killing of vertebrate animals (regarding in particular the question ‘if’, but also ‘how’) has been influencing both EU policy and the global animal welfare standards of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) which in 2005 with its at that time 172 Member States unanimously adopted animal welfare standards for humane killing of animals for disease control purposes.
On this occasion OIE Director General Bernard Vallat proved to be in line with the ethical considerations: “For some diseases, applying stamping-out measures to the infected sites is sometimes unavoidable, but the OIE makes every effort to limit the use of such measures by providing for the use of vaccination for disease prevention purposes. When there is no alternative to stamping out, the OIE recommends using methods that are designed to limit animal suffering as far as possible.”