Animals to be formally recognised as sentient beings in domestic law

Vertebrate animals will be recognised as sentient beings for the first time in UK law, following the introduction of the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill in Parliament today.

The legislation, which follows the publication of Defra’s Animal Welfare Action plan yesterday, will also ensure that animal sentience is taken into account when developing policy across Government through the creation of a Animal Sentience Committee which will be made up of animal experts from within the field.

By enshrining sentience in domestic law in this way, any new legislation will have to take into account the fact that animals can experience feelings such as pain or joy. The Bill will underpin the Action Plan, which sets out the government’s plans to ‘improve standards and eradicate cruel practices for animals both domestically and internationally’.

The Bill’s introduction, fulfilling a key Manifesto commitment, will further the UK’s position as a world-leader on animal welfare in the post-Brexit world, Defra said.

  • The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill will:
  • formally recognise animals as sentient beings in domestic law
  • establish an Animal Sentience Committee made up of experts to ensure cross departmental government policy considers animal sentience
  • ensure Government Ministers update parliament on recommendations made by the Animal Sentience Committee.

Launching the Bill, Animal Welfare minister Lord Goldsmith said: “The UK has always led the way on animal welfare and now that we’ve left the EU we are free to drive for the highest standards of animal welfare anywhere in the world.

“Formally recognising in law that animals are sentient and experience feelings in the same way humans do is just the first step in our flagship Action Plan for Animal Welfare which will further transform the lives of animals in this country and strengthen our position as a global leader.”

Claire Bass, executive director of Humane Society International/UK said:
“The formation of an Animal Sentience Committee is a very welcome step; it must though be designed with the right expertise, independence, resourcing and access to information to enable it to provide robust and constructive scrutiny. We hope that it will support government’s delivery of a progressive welfare strategy built on respect for the needs of sentient animals, who enrich and improve our lives in so many ways.”

James West, Senior Policy Manager, Compassion in World Farming, welcomed the legislation.

“We applaud this initiative that will apply to policies being developed across all UK Government departments,” he said.

“We look forward to the newly established Committee being effective in ensuring that Ministers pay all due regard to animal sentience when formulating and implementing policy.”

The UK has a long history of improving the lives of animals, being the first country in the world to pass legislation to protect animals in 1822 with the Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act and later the landmark Protection of Animals Act in 1911.

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Editor of LBM titles Pig World and Farm Business and group editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer. National Pig Association's webmaster. Previously political editor at Farmers Guardian for many years and also worked Farmers Weekly. Occasional farming media pundit. Brought up on a Leicestershire farm, now work from a shed in the garden in Oxfordshire. Big fan of Leicester City and Leicester Tigers. Occasional cricketer.