The Vegan Society celebrates recognition of animal sentience in UK law
The Vegan Society welcomes and celebrates the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill passing its final parliamentary stage on 8 April 2022. This monumental moment means animal sentience will officially be incorporated directly into UK law once it receives royal assent.
Animal sentience has been part of European Union (EU) law for 25 years, and has applied to EU Member States including the UK since 1997. However, this stopped applying when the UK left the EU at the start of 2021. It has remained a part of EU law as Article 13 of the Treaty of The Functioning of the European Union.
The new UK legislation requires the Secretary of State to establish a committee which reviews policies and publishes reports on whether the UK government has had “all due regard to the ways in which the policy might have an adverse effect on the welfare of animals as sentient beings.”
The committee may also make recommendations on how best to do this. However, while the government is obliged to respond to these reports, they are only advisory, and there is also no obligation on the government to prioritise the welfare of animals as sentient beings over other considerations.
The idea of animal sentience – that animals have an emotional life and are able have sensations and feelings – is central to veganism as a philosophical belief and ethical practice.
Animals covered by the new Bill are:
(a) any vertebrate other than homo sapiens
(b) any cephalopod mollusc (like octopuses and squid)
(c) any decapod crustacean (such as crabs and lobsters)
The inclusion of cephalopods and decapods is significant as industries which exploit these animals, such as the fishing or seafood industries, operate in the UK.
The inclusion of these animals resulted from a report published by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) which found strong evidence of sentience in both groups.
Head of Campaigns, Policy and Research at The Vegan Society, Claire Ogley, gives her reaction: “This Bill is an important step in the fight for the rights of animals and their legal protection from exploitation. Recognition of animal sentience has supported small improvements to animal welfare legislation, but it does not prevent the widespread suffering inflicted upon animals which happens when they are treated as commodities.”
“Animals are thinking, feeling, social beings, deserving of dignity, compassion and respect. Every animal should be free to pursue their own interests, in suitable habitats, expressing their natural behaviours, with the minimum necessary intervention. The Vegan Society will continue to fight for a world in which animals are no longer used or exploited.”
The Vegan Society believes that truly recognising the sentiency of animals means ending their use and exploitation for food, entertainment, sport and other purposes. While it welcomes the formation of the new Animal Sentience Committee, advice put forward by the Committee must be followed by the government and legislation must go further to end the exploitation of animals.
While the Bill allows for the definition of ‘animals’ within the act to be amended in future to include other invertebrates, the current approach taken by the government – of requiring conclusive positive evidence of sentiency – is flawed as sentiency is a subjective experience and can be difficult to prove conclusively. Instead, The Vegan Society believes we should follow the Precautionary Principle and assume animals are sentient wherever there is significant uncertainly.