Success Story – GAIA’s Michel Vandenbosch

GAIA – Global Action in the Interest of Animals – is a household name for animal rights advocacy in Belgium.

For 32 years, this powerhouse organisation has had a hand in each and every animal welfare law in Belgium. Through thorough investigations, vibrant campaigns and peaceful activism, GAIA works tirelessly to denounce animal cruelty and abuse.

‘At GAIA, our strategy has always been, first and foremost, about putting animal welfare on the [political] agenda.’ 

As President and co-founder of GAIA, Michel Vandenbosch is Belgium’s most renowned animal activist. His leadership has propelled GAIA to become Belgium’s foremost authority on animal rights and welfare. The organisation boasts over 85 000 affiliated members. GAIA’s animal advocacy campaigns are ambitious and impactful. Working at the regional, national and international level, GAIA’s impact is nothing short of an inspiration to humane activism worldwide.

Putting animal welfare on the political map

‘We had a political priority right from the start,’ Mr. Vandenbosch declared. He details GAIA’s first bold initiative upon its establishment in 1992 of fighting for governmental recognition of animal welfare as its own distinct category. This, Mr. Vandenbosch noted, involved multiple steps and over 25 years of lobbying and campaigning. In 2014, thanks to GAIA, Belgium saw its first-ever regional Ministers of Animal Welfare. ‘It really created new dynamics in animal welfare.’  

A horse falling during a horse race, capturing the harsh reality that GAIA successfully campaigned to ban after over 80 years of cruel practices

GAIA’s inspirational advocacy and groundbreaking achievements 

GAIA’s relentless efforts have played an indispensable role in securing groundbreaking legislative measures and landmark court rulings both in Belgium and the European Union. The organisation’s diverse and zealous campaigns have led to palpable, systemic changes in favour of animal welfare. Mr. Vandenbosch highlights GAIA’s first successful campaign in 1995: the ban on street horse racing. ‘Cruel horse racing was organised in Belgium for over 80 years,’ shared Mr. Vandenbosch. ‘It was a huge political crisis. The Minister of Agriculture refused to ban the races but in the end we won.’ 

Other unprecedented successes include: 

  • Banning wild animals in circuses
  • Ban on the import and sale of seal products in Europe 
  • Ban on fur farming
  • Stopping the sale of eggs from caged chickens in all Belgian supermarket chains 
  • Banning force-feeding for the production of foie gras 
  • Ban on the sale of dogs and cats in markets 
  • The closure of several markets involving animal abuse 
  • Bans on slaughter without stunning
  • Bans on slaughter without stunning, with no exception for religious reasons and validated by the EU- Court of Justice, the Belgian Constitutional Court and recently the European Court of Human Rights

These battles for animal welfare have been met with resistance, sometimes requiring decades of steadfast tenacity. ‘In order to achieve successes in campaigning, you have to be patient,’ said Mr. Vandenbosch. 

As is the case with issues such as Belgium’s foie gras production. Over nearly 25 years, GAIA has successfully campaigned for the legal ban on force-feeding ducks and geese in two out of three regions in Belgium. Though this is a milestone achievement, for GAIA, the battle continues. ‘Through our campaigning,’ shared Mr. Vandenbosch, ‘foie gras consumption is decreasing.’ Faux gras, GAIA’s plant-based alternative for foie gras, continues to grow in popularity: ‘all supermarkets in Belgium are selling it.’ 

‘We are proud that we have changed the face of Belgium with regards to animal welfare.’ 

Activists sit in front of the entrance gate of Linburg Zoo, part of GAIA’s ongoing efforts to raise awareness and advocate for the welfare of animals in captivity

GAIA and ACTAsia’s shared fur free vision

GAIA has been a loyal supporter of ACTAsia’s work for many years, particularly in our fur free campaigning. GAIA supports ACTAsia’s Compassion in Fashion, a first of its kind academic course that teaches fashion students and young professionals about fur free and ethical fashion. ‘When fighting the fur farming industry,’ said Mr. Vandenbosch, ‘it is always about different actors on the field being responsible for creating the problem.’ 

‘Producers are one actor, and the fashion people are another. We need to influence this group. They are the key to change.’ 

Legislative Milestone: Mr. Michel Vandenbosch delivers a speech in 2011 at the Belgian federal parliament, commemorating the 25th anniversary of animal welfare legislation

GAIA’s staunch support of ACTAsia speaks to a shared vision and commitment to education. ‘Knowing that animals are sentient individuals who have their own needs and deserve respect strengthens children’s sense of empathy,’ reflected Mr. Vandenbosch. 

‘Children are the future of animals.’ 

Star-Studded Support: A heartening moment with Mr. Vandenbosch and Brigitte Bardot endorsing GAIA

ACTAsia’s Fur Free Project 

ACTAsia’s Fur Free project enlightens consumers, enabling them to make informed decisions regarding the fur industry. We aim to halt the demand for fur by examining breeding practices, animal living conditions, slaughter methods, and the environmentally harmful production processes of fur. ACTAsia conducts ongoing research in these areas and assists consumers and retailers in opting for fur alternatives. This initiative is crucial as the industry often obscures the harsh realities of fur production.

Through its fur free initiatives and programmes, ‘ACTAsia is fighting and doing what needs to be done,’ said Mr. Vandenbosch. ‘I know it is not an easy fight but ACTAsia is such an incredible organisation. It is achieving results.’ 

protestors holding
Mr Vandenbosch and street protesters against fur farming, demonstrating the collective strength of those fighting for a fur-free future

Thank you to Mr. Vandenbosch and GAIA for your inspirational work and amazing support. As we celebrate international advocacy for animal welfare and education, we invite you to be part of our transformative mission. Donate now to continue the momentum!