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A study module in animal law is offered internationally online

A study module in animal law is offered internationally online

IMAGES: Pixabay

The AniLex study module offered by the Open University at Åbo Akademi University fills a gap in legal studies globally. Top international names as lecturers.

There is a lack of opportunities to study animal law—in the Nordic countries, Europe and around the world.

– We are in a development phase in terms of animal rights. One might think that we should have come further, but in Finland, we actually have expertise that is not available in the Nordic countries and that is appreciated in the rest of Europe. We can basically say that animal law is an established field of legal studies here, while in Sweden, for example, there is not a single university where one can study and take courses in animal law.

This is what Birgitta Wahlberg, university lecturer in public law at Åbo Akademi University, says, noting that three people in Finland have doctorates in animal law, herself from Åbo Akademi University, Visa Kurki who works at the University of Helsinki, and Tarja Koskela at the University of Eastern Finland. Wahlberg is a pioneer in the field and one of the growing number of people around the world with scientific expertise in animal law.

Now she is taking the next step and has developed the module AniLex, which is offered internationally via the Open University at Åbo Akademi University. Nine courses of five credits each, are all offered online in English with top lecturers from Finland and around the world.

– It is fantastic that we can share the existing knowledge. There is a demand and a great need for knowledge in animal law.

Wahlberg says that we have never utilised animals as much as we do now – and without a criterion of necessity.

– We breed, use, kill and slaughter, without it being necessary for our survival. We are destroying both nature and the environment with the way we use animals. The climate crisis, the losses in biodiversity, the zoonoses – all of these are linked to how we use animals. If we continue, we will also destroy our own chances of survival.


In addition to the ethical issues, various legal issues arise with the use of animals. Issues that need to be resolved.

– One could ask, can’t animal law issues be resolved in the fields of administrative law, legal philosophy or environmental law? But what distinguishes these fields from animal law is that they approach the issues from a human-centred perspective, while animal law has a zoocentric point of view.

A zoocentric viewpoint means that we approach the legal issues with the animal in focus and the knowledge we have today about sentient beings other than humans.

– This perspective challenges the traditional way of thinking about the relationship between humans and other animals, and thus our way of life. Our way of life raises legal issues, and approaching research issues from a new perspective can lead to new results and the development of the legal situation. New ways of thinking and acting have shaped society at large earlier in human history as well.

According to Wahlberg, students have no problem understanding the meaning of and connection between how we use animals and the pandemic we are currently living with, for example. This is one of the reasons why there is continuous demand for courses in animal law. Therefore, she hopes that students from different academic areas, especially in the Nordic countries, will find the AniLex courses. You can take individual courses or complete them as a module. For students at Åbo Akademi University, the module can constitute a minor subject.

– Actually, anyone interested in taking the courses is welcome, but in addition to students, I especially hope that officials in various administrative areas will participate in the courses. It would also be gratifying if legislators, members of parliament, would participate in the courses.

For the first three courses, no previous knowledge in legal studies is required, and the following six courses can be taken either with the first three courses as a basis or with another corresponding, verifiable background in legal studies.

– The starting point is in Nordic or European law, but via the assignments, each person will compare the content to the legal system and legislation of their own country; it also enables participation from outside the Nordic region and Europe. Some issues are also global, such as the issue of the legal status of animals.


In addition to Wahlberg herself, top names in animal law will teach the courses, including the previously mentioned Kurki and Koskela, Sacha Lucassen from the Centre for Animal Defense in Denmark, who specialises in EU and criminal law, and Pamela D. Frasch from Lewis & Clark Law School in the US, who is an expert in food law.

– We have lecturers from Finland, Denmark, England, France and the US, and more, who have promised to share their knowledge, says Wahlberg.

Wahlberg points out that one of the universities’ central tasks is to be ahead of their time—and on the issue of animal rights, she always has been.

– I am so happy that the professor of public law at Åbo Akademi University, Markku Suksi, has always believed in and supported my efforts for the development of animal law at Åbo Akademi University. Now we are beginning to be in a situation where we are making a significant contribution to the development of a society in which sentient beings other than just humans are highly respected in the legal sense. For this, we need science-based teaching at the university level so that we can react normatively to the injustices we face today, injustices that we should rectify in society, Wahlberg concludes.