France: a criticized amendment on the legal status of animals in the Civil Code

On April 15th, in the frame of a parliamentary work to simplify the Civil Code, an amendment has been voted providing that "domestic animals kept in captivity" are sentient beings. 

Some newspapers have immediately reacted in a very positive way, saying that this was a big improvement for animal welfare in France. Reality is very different. This amendment could be seen as a political maneuver to close the debate on the legal status of the animals.

End of October 2013, 20 intellectuals have signed a petition launched by the animal welfare organisation "30 Millions d'Amis", asking for a new Title in the Civil Code for the animals. Up to now, while the criminal code is considering the animals under a different Title than "goods" and "persons", the Civil Code is still considering the animals as "goods". 

Indeed, France has a very complex legal system for considering the animals that has not changed since 1976: 

  • Companion Animals are considered as "furnitures" by the Civil Code and also as "sentient beings" by the rural Code. 
  • Farm Animals are falling under the scope of "buildings" of the Civil Code, because they are linked to the farms or stabbles where they are kept. But the Rural Code also consider them as "sentient beings".
  • Wild Animals are considered as "res nullius", and are out of any legal protection

In parallel, two temporary working groups have been created in the Senate (directed by Chantal Jouanno) and in the National Assembly (directed by Geneviève GAILLARD) preparing a more ambitious project to change the legal status of all animals in France. Before any bill could have been introduced by one of these working groups, this unexpected amendment to the Civil Code has been introduced and voted on one evening, closing the debate.

This amendment is not removing the animals from the "goods" Title. It is also not giving any legal personality to the animals, that would permit a third person to claim damages on their names in case of mistreatments. Therefore this will have no legal consequence and will not improve the situation of the animals in France.

The change and the clarification of the legal status of the animals was a promise in 2012 when the actual President François Hollande was only candidate. But more recently, in february 2014 in the famous "Agricultural fair", the French President has said that "Farmers make enough effort to protect animal welfare and consequently it is not necessary to change the legal status of the animals". 

In short, this amendment will not change anything for the animals neither create a duty of men to take care of them. Despite this, some farmers organisations and hunters organisations are already fighting against…


Please find here below the relevant documents: