Protecting animals across the globe

The image shows Charlotte Blattner, winner of the 2020 Marie Heim-Vögtlin Prize.

This year, the Swiss National Science Foundation’s Marie Heim-Vögtlin Prize has been awarded to researcher Charlotte Blattner, whose dissertation on animal rights shows how animals can be protected across national borders.

Every year billions of male chicks are shredded worldwide. The chicks can neither be fattened for slaughter nor used any other way in the animal industry and therefore are considered expendable. The public is largely opposed to this practice, and in some places it is even unconstitutional. However, higher standards are often not introduced because the industry can simply move abroad, thus avoiding domestic animal welfare safeguards.

Most areas in which animals are used, such as agriculture and medical research, are globalised. “States compete for location”, says legal scholar Charlotte Blattner. “They adapt their laws to the interests of investors and producers and refuse to enact effective standards for protecting animals or upholding existing laws.” As a result, animals often lose out to economic interests, and efforts to protect them are effectively thwarted.

Cross-border protection

Blattner, the winner of the Marie Heim-Vögtlin (MHV) Prize for 2020, has committed herself to this complex issue. Her dissertation focuses on how to better protect animals across the globe.

To this end, she argues that the concept of extraterritorial jurisdiction under international law is relevant to animal law. This principle allows states to apply domestic laws to situations abroad provided there is a sufficiently close connection to their own legal system. For example, a state with high animal welfare standards can sanction its own nationals or companies for animal welfare violations abroad. Blattner’s research also provides new insights into how regulatory sovereignty can be used indirectly, for example through investment guidelines or import and export bans.

Extraterritorial jurisdiction is already an established tool in human rights protection and business law. Now, for the first time, Blattner’s work has shown how this approach could also revolutionise animal rights by preventing the systematic undermining of national animal protection laws and, consequently, global deregulation.

Support from the SNSF

Blattner received a Doc.CH grant from the SNSF for her dissertation work. The SNSF also supported publication of the dissertation, which has been freely available as a digital book since 2019. In addition, Blattner benefitted from an SNSF mobility grant to extend her findings to environmental law during a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard Law School. She is currently a senior lecturer at the University of Bern, where she is working on her habilitation in the area of climate law.

Organising a moot court

Blattner would like to use the award money to support young women who are at the beginning of their academic career – for example through a student writing prize or by organising a simulated court hearing (moot court) of a fictional case dealing with some aspect of animal rights. The prize is worth 25,000 francs.

Recognising first-rate women researchers

The SNSF awards the Marie Heim-Vögtlin (MHV) Prize each year to an outstanding woman researcher. Prize winners are inspiring role models whose careers progressed significantly thanks to their grant. Since 2020, the prize has been awarded to a former female grantee of the MHV, Doc.CH, Postdoc.Mobility, Ambizione or PRIMA career funding scheme.

The prize was named after Marie Heim-Vögtlin, who became the first Swiss woman to study medicine when she was admitted to the University of Zurich’s medical faculty in 1868. On completing her studies, she opened a gynaecological practice, where she continued practising after giving birth to two children. She is regarded as one of the pioneers in the struggle to give women access to higher education.