Amendments to the Animal Welfare Act were made with "the interest and well-being of our animals in mind", Animal Rights Minister Anton Refalo has insisted, despite concerns raised by activists.
They argue that changes due to come into force this month could create loopholes that would allow animals to be exploited and used in circus-style events.
However, Refalo said that the law was created after "discussions from every angle" including talks with the concerned commissioner and would protect animals.
“Thanks to laws that did not exist before, you now have the power of the law so that those who wish to enforce it... can do so even in court,” he said when asked about the activists' criticisms.
"We are a government that discusses and does what is best with the interest and well-being of our animals in mind," he said when pushed further to comment on the loophole worries.
How will the law change?
The law will continue to ban the use of animals in circuses.
However the definition of a circus will change and the law will be amended to include a clause allowing animals to be used as ‘props’ in artistic exhibitions, theatre performances and films.
Circuses will now be defined as "any exhibition put on by exhibitors for profit, and viewed by the public for entertainment which offers amusement and display, and where animals are made to perform tricks or manoeuvres, which do not reflect their natural behaviour or does not offer any educational value".
The addition of the word “for profit” may give rise to situations where circus-like activities that involve animals are permissible if they are not put on for profit, activist Darryl Grima has argued.
Animal Welfare Commissioner Alison Bezzina also aired similar worries in January.
“If something is deemed cruel, it should be deemed so whether a person is doing it for profit or not. If an animal circus act is offered for free or charity it is still cruel to the animals," she said.
She also raised concerns about the use of the word 'prop' in the law, arguing that it was not clearly defined.
"This could open a loophole for the exploitation of animals," she said.
Earlier this month, Cleopatra’s Horse Show was cancelled following a protest outside Veterinary and Phytosanitary Regulation Division’s (VRD) offices in Marsa.
During the protest, activists dressed up in pyjamas and held signs saying that VRD was asleep on the job while animals suffered.
In a statement, they said the show "clearly falls under the definition of a circus and cannot be allowed under the current legislation."
The show’s organisers – Montekristo Estate – cancelled the event after admitting that aspects of the show would not comply with laws banning animals in circuses.
"Montekristo Estates was originally planning to host the Cleopatra Horse Show with a set of prestigious stables from abroad," a Montekristo Estate spokesperson said.
"However, once enquiries were made with the relevant authorities it came to light that aspects of the show would not be in compliance with local legislation."
Bezzina argued at the time that such an event could now be allowed under the new rules.