Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Animals to be Formally Recognised as Sentient Beings in UK Law

For the first time, animals are going to be formally recognised under UK law as sentient beings. In a major victory for animal welfare advocates, a series of animal welfare measures are being adopted by the government which including the halting of most live animal exports and banning hunting trophy imports.

A series of bills will introduce these reforms, which include a bill for animal sentience, covering UK pets and farm animals, as well as protections for animals abroad, such as ivory and shark fin bans, and potentially a foie gras ban.

Some measures, like microchipping cats and prohibiting people from having primates as pets, have been under consideration for years. Others, however, such as restricting exports of live animals for fattening and slaughter, have been the focus of campaigns for decades. 

Environment Secretary, George Eustice, noted that, as a country of animal lovers, we were the first nation in the world that passed animal welfare legislation. Our animal welfare action plan will deliver on our commitment to prohibit live animals from being exported for fattening and slaughter, prohibit pet primates, and introduce laws combatting puppy smuggling. We are now, as an independent nation, able to progress further than ever to expand on our exemplary track record.

The animal welfare action plan includes a new taskforce to address pet theft, a growing problem during the “puppy boom,” spurred by coronavirus lockdowns. There will also be a ban on controversial e-collars which deliver electric shocks to train pets, and new import regulations to curtail puppy smuggling.

There will also be a crackdown on illegal hare coursing and glue trap use restrictions. In response to farmers’ concerns about loose dogs in the countryside during lockdowns, new powers will be given to police to protect farm animals from loose dogs. However, cage use for poultry, as well as use of farrowing crates for pigs will not be subjected to an outright ban, as advocates promoted. Rather, their uses will be reviewed, and incentives offered to farmers for improving animal welfare and health through adoption of the farm subsidy regime.

The government also renewed its commitment to promote, in future trade agreements, U.K. animal welfare. However, they have not committed this objective to law as advocates had proposed.

James West, a Senior Policy Manager at Compassion in World Farming, an advocacy group, said that some measures are subjects of long-term campaigns. He said that they have been urging legislation recognizing animals as sentient beings in the U.K., and for consideration of sentience when formulating and implementing policy. He added that they are very pleased the government confirmed it will work on banning live exports for fattening and slaughter. After campaigning for decades, it’s about time that this unnecessary, cruel trade finally stops.

West urged that the government go further to stop importing and sales of foie gras, as well as ban cage use for the 16 million sows and laying hens in the U.K. He also noted that all the positive statements must be backed up by comprehensive production labeling, and government assurance that animal welfare reforms will not be undermined in future trade agreements.

The import and export ban on shark fins, which was the subject of a campaign by chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, among others, was welcomed also. The Wildlife TV presenter and a patron of the Bite-Back campaign on shark finning, Steve Backshall, remarked that the reforms are significant to help restore balance in the oceans, and they send a strong message to the world that shark fin soup be in the history books, not the menu.

Executive Director of the Humane Society International/UK, Claire Bass, noted that to deliver on the plan, it will require real commitment and understanding from across Whitehall. Respecting animal welfare is not just the right thing for animals, but it also will be crucial for tackling global environmental and public health challenges such as antibiotic resistance, pandemic prevention, and climate change.

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