The government’s move to recognise animal sentience in UK law after Brexit has been welcomed by welfare groups.
Concerns were raised last week after the government voted to reject the inclusion of animal sentience in the European Union Withdrawal Bill.
Prominent wildlife photographer Richard Bowler described the move as a “vote to say animals can no longer feel pain or emotions”, adding that it “beggars belief that in this day and age the government no longer recognises animals as sentient beings”.
But following a public outcry from animal rights groups and campaigners Michael Gove today promised the UK will continue to recognise the sentience of animals after Brexit and committed the Government to strengthening protections.
The Environment Secretary defended the 303 Tory MPs who joined the DUP to defeat the RSPCA-backed proposal to transfer the EU protocol on animal sentience into UK law – an amendment supported by every other Parliamentary political party.
Gove insisted: “ministers explained on the floor of the house that this Government’s policies on animal welfare are driven by our recognition that animals are indeed sentient beings and we are acting energetically to reduce the risk of harm to animals – whether on farms or in the wild.”
Speaking after the announcement a spokesperson from World Animal Protection said: “We welcome the Government announcement that it will ensure that animal sentience continues to be recognised in any changes to UK law after we leave the EU.
“Over the past few months there has been much debate about how to include Article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty (which states that animals are sentient beings) into the EU Withdrawal Bill.
“(We) have been seeking a clear commitment about how animal sentience will be recognised in law and to inform and develop policy after Brexit…. and strongly urge the Government to publish more specific details of the legislative vehicle it proposes to use as soon as possible, and to openly engage with animal protection organisations throughout the development of this proposal.”
The campaign group’s API – a classification of 50 countries according to their commitments to protect animals – is set to be published next year with updated ratings for each country, including an assessment of whether the UK has maintained it’s current top ‘A’ standard.
In recent days the API has been cited as a way of assessing the UK Government’s commitment to recognising sentience. The API was published in 2014 and was the very first attempt to understand global animal protection. Animal welfare policy and laws were reviewed and assessed against specific indicators and standards offering the first comprehensive view of global performance on this subject.
One of the indicators in the index makes an assessment of countries’ acknowledgement of animal sentience. The group therefore have highlighted concerns that the UK Government rejected an amendment to incorporate Article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty on sentience into the EU Withdrawal Bill without stating how this scientific and moral principle would be enshrined elsewhere in UK law.
In a statement they continued: “While we therefore welcome today’s announcement, World Animal Protection will be offering to work closely with the Government to develop its more specific proposals.
“We want to ensure the UK maintains its reputation as one of the most progressive countries in the world in its recognition of sentience and protection of animal welfare.”