Most people would associate bullfighting with Spain. Back in the 1970s, no package tour was complete without the (hopefully optional) trip to the corrida to witness the so-called duel between the brocaded matador and the black bull. It’s only going to end one way – and that’s not in the bull’s favour. You don’t need me to provide the details. But if you’re thinking of holidaying, or indeed moving to the south of France, you need to be aware that bullfighting exists, in fact flourishes, in certain departments in France.
Bullfighting is still practised in France
Although technically the practice of bullfighting would contravene the French law on animal cruelty, nine departments in the south of the hexagon have been granted a legal dispensation. For the avoidance of doubt, these departments are: 33, 40, 64, 32, 66, 34, 30, 13 and 83. Why is this allowed to happen? That old chestnut “tradition”. These departments were able to prove an “uninterrupted history” of bullfighting in their area, as a result of which they were given this special status. (It also applies to cockfighting in the north, yes, you read that right – it might be the subject of another article, if I can face it.)
What’s the government or legal position?
In 2011 Francois Mitterand agreed to the nomination of bullfighting as part of the country’s cultural heritage. Then, in 2012 the French Constitutional Court ruled that French bullfighting (there are various types – see below) was not cruelty to animals and refused to ban it. In a later challenge, in 2015 the Paris Court of Appeal removed the practice of corrida-style bullfighting from the cultural heritage list. However, essentially in 10% of the departments in the country, bullfighting is legal.
Is French bullfighting different?
Allegedly, the French version of bullfighting involves less cruelty than its Spanish counterpart, as it is supposedly bloodless. There are in fact two types of ‘French’ bullfighting: Courses Camarguaise and Courses Landaise. In the former, the human participant has to snatch a rosette from between the horns of the specially-bred Camargue black bull’s horns. The bull might not die in this so-called game, but it clearly still involves unnecessary exploitation. There is another form of French bullfighting known as Courses Landaise originating from the Landes, department 40. This involves two competing teams of humans performing some complex ‘game’ involving cows. It’s simply too ridiculous to describe. In addition to these two versions, there are also ‘bull running’ events, especially in the Camargue area when bulls run through the streets pursuing a crowd of usually drunk and very stupid human beings.
So, no bulls die then?
Er, no. Although these two versions of French bullfighting seem to be those most often promoted by the tourist offices in the departments concerned, true Spanish-style corrida still exists and flourishes in some areas. In particular, this barbarity occurs in the old Roman arenas of Arles and Nimes, where it is promoted by the tourism industry and the locals, of course. It even receives public funding. So, in short corrida equals bull dead (I’m not going into the gory details, there’s enough information out there) and the other two traditional French practices do not necessarily. The only ‘good’ news is that deaths are not one-sided. In 2017, a bullfighter was gored to death in Pau, said to be the first French bullfighting death in 100 years, although Spain seems to witness yearly casualties.
What hope is there for the future?
Despite what you’ve just read, it would seem that, rather like hunting, there is little widespread support for bullfighting in France. In 2018, the Brigitte Bardot Association commissioned an IFOB independent survey that showed a clear majority (74%) in favour of banning bullfighting. There is an animal rights moment in France that campaign against bullfighting in the south – COLBAC: Biterrois Liaison Committee for the Abolition of Bullfighting in France. There have even been clashes between corrida supporters and activists. Hopefully, as more people become aware of animal welfare issues, the audience for this barbaric so-called sport will decline and eventually the practice will cease. Meanwhile, there are justifiable calls for tourists to boycott these staged events.
What can vegans do about this?
Whilst I doubt that any vegans (or rational people) would willingly attend such an event, it does pay to be aware that this is happening in your adopted country, in the twenty-first century. If you are an English-speaking vegan planning a visit to France, then you would be well-advised to steer clear of these areas in southern towns and cities. The Camargue is a beautiful area, with flamingos, black bulls and the beautiful white Camargue horses grazing the salt marshes, but all is not as picture-postcard pretty as it may at first glance appear.
*NOTE: It was difficult enough to find a photograph to accompany this article that didn’t involve some human exploitation of the poor bulls. I’ve deliberately not put many links in the article for two reasons. First, I don’t want to support the practise and second, I wanted to spare my readers some of the gory details. If you do want to learn more, everything I mention can be found with a quick Google search.