Interview with Dr. Gieri Bolliger

Posted on December 4, 2014

Dr. Gieri Bolliger’s accomplishments are unusual in type and unprecedented in caliber. He is executive director of the Swiss-based Foundation for the Animal in the Law (Stiftung für das Tier im Recht)—Europe’s only animal welfare organization strictly focused on the legal system. Gieri has worked tirelessly in the field of animal law for 20 years and he believes in working collaboratively with the global animal law community whenever possible. He has taught comparative international animal law at Lewis & Clark, the University of Zurich, and the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. In addition, he has published 12 books and more than 100 articles on Swiss and international animal law, as an editor, author, and co-author.


After earning a law degree at the University of Zurich Law School, he completed a Ph.D. in European animal welfare law and an L.L.M. in animal law at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon. Gieri is also the first Visiting International Scholar for 2014-2015 at Lewis & Clark’s Center for Animal Law Studies, where he is working on several books in animal law. One is the first comprehensive overview of Swiss animal law in English, “to help make the legal concepts and laws in Switzerland more accessible to others working in the field. There is no book currently in English that does this.” Gieri, who also features in Liz Marshall’s award-winning documentary, The Ghosts in Our Machine, is working on his habilitation (the highest academic qualification in Europe) on comparative international criminal law as well.

For ten years, Gieri served as a member of the Committee for Animal Experiments of the Canton of Zurich. One of the difficulties is “the widely accepted belief that the use of animals to achieve so called ‘higher goals’ is justified.” This presents substantial obstacles in the way of enforcing laws against animal cruelty. So it is challenging “to have conversations about animal welfare when… the prevalent attitude in the scientific community (and society) is that we can use the animals for anything, especially science, medicine, and research.”

Another obstacle is multibillion-dollar industries like factory farming that profit from harming animals. “The question is not whether animals have dignity or not,” he explains. “They have dignity—that is clear.” The question is whether we legally protect animal dignity. Gieri says he is shocked “to witness how the animals raised for food are treated” in the U.S. “In Europe,” he notes, “we have greater protections for farmed animals than in the U.S. where billions of animals are unprotected and suffering with zero legal protection.”


Animal welfare is a state goal and has been part of the Swiss Constitution since 1973. In fact, Gieri explains that “the dignity of animals is legally protected, and animals are no longer considered things or objects, but are under a separate legal category—animals.” Under Swiss Law, animals “have a legally protected emotional value to the owner which can be much higher than the purely economic or market value of that animal.” Unlike in the U.S., when people divorce in Switzerland, “the court doesn’t automatically award custody of an animal to whoever paid for or can establish ownership” but rather to the party who “will provide better conditions for the animal in terms of animal welfare.”

This consideration of animals as beings with interests, not things, is fundamental to the work done by the national nonprofit Animal Legal Defense Fund every day. The Swiss have managed to achieve what ALDF fights so hard for in the U.S. courts every day, against an outdated legal system. And it seems that very little can stop the work of an advocate for animals like Gieri Bolliger, who is undoubtedly a voice for the voiceless.

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