(Outdated post) Call to action: Make sure that the UK government protects animal sentience through the law!

NOTE: this post is now out of date (essentially, the government responded to pressure from individuals like you! Well done!) – see this newer post for the more recent developments.

If you are short of time (and UK-based), just complete this one action!

Tell your local MP to make sure that animal sentience is protected in a meaningful way after Brexit!

You can use the following tool and my suggested message template below to do so. Make sure that you select your MP, rather than local councillors.

I will start with the actions which can currently be taken, for the time-constrained, but detail my thoughts and reasons below, for those who are interested.

 

Useful actions which can currently be taken

At the moment, there are 4 different types of actions that can be undertaken by the public to make it more likely that animal sentience will be included in EU Withdrawal Bill. These are mostly limited to UK residents.

1. Lobbying MPs and the government to make sure that animal sentience is protected in a meaningful way after Brexit, however that might be.

 

First action:

Tell your local MP to make sure that animal sentience is protected in a meaningful way after Brexit! You can use the following tool to do so, but make sure that you select your MP, rather than local councillors.

I recommend that you base your communications on this suggested letter template, but that you take some time to personalise the message (this will make them read it more thoroughly):

Letter or email template:

Dear [YOUR MP’s NAME],

I am writing to you to ask that you speak up to ensure that animal sentience is protected in a meaningful way after Brexit.

Conservative and DUP MPs rejected Caroline Lucas’ amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill, which would have required that, “since animals are sentient beings” the UK would “pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals”.

I recognise that this forms part of a wider debate around Brexit, but the interests of animals must not be ignored.

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 “makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to any domestic or captive animal”, but this does not apply to farmed animals in practice. Since these animals, as much as our beloved pets, are sentient beings, they also need to be protected from “unnecessary suffering”. Article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty has done this to some extent so far.

Please speak to your colleagues about this issue, so that we can ensure that animal sentience is protected in a meaningful way after Brexit, however that might be. It is absolutely crucial – for the sake of millions of animals, who cannot speak for themselves – that the government makes a firm commitment on how it will address this issue.

Yours sincerely,

[YOUR NAME]

Second action: Tweet @michaelgove and/or @DavidDavisMP, asking them to make sure that animal sentience is protected in a meaningful way after Brexit!

Twitter template:

@MichaelGove Brexit is a complicated issue, but the interests of animals must not be ignored. The government needs to make a firm commitment on how it will ensure that animal sentience is protected in a meaningful way after Brexit!

2. Writing letters to the editors of newspapers or other news outlet, so that they are then published in debate or readers contributions sections.

In some sense, this may help to apply public pressure and make it more likely that politicians will feel that there is significant public demand for change (if they read the editorials, or if word indirectly reaches them).

More directly, however, this is just good opportunity to get people to discuss animal issues in a positive manner and make people think more about animals as sentient beings. The rejection of the amendments makes the issue topical. To make your letter even more up-to-date, and therefore more likely to be published, you could refer to recent developments, such as the creation of the demonstration scheduled for 5th December, or any minor updates that may occur as a result of further debate in the House of Commons.

There are many good places to get tips on how to write letters to editors effectively. One good source for this is written by Tobias Leenaert, here.

3. Tell people about the issues, and encourage them to take the actions above! This might be on social media, but person-to-person conversations are probably more likely to result in people taking action.

4. OPTIONAL: Although it is a complicated issue, some groups are advocating simply transferring Article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty over to UK law, through the EU Withdrawal Bill. If you are interested in finding out where you stand on this issue, you may like to read some of the information below.

First action: Sign the two online petitions which have been created, encouraging Article 13 from the Lisbon Treaty to be carried over into UK law, as the upcoming parliamentary amendments suggest.

First petition second petition

 

Second action (open to international supporters): sign Compassion In World Farming’s petition to Michael Gove, here. 

Third action: email David Davis MP, Secretary of State for the Department for Exiting the EU and Lesley Griffiths AM, Welsh Government to ensure animal welfare is not left behind. You can use the RSPCA’s email tool and template here.

 

Note that in the background, animal rights activists will also be working to create a clearer, unified set of demands to the government.

Some will also be working lobby the members of the House of Lords, to ensure their support when the EU Withdrawal Bill reaches them. In the near future, I will update this post with some further tips about how to contact peers (in the House of Lords) to build support there, if needs be. If you want to get proactive on this issue too, then you can use this list to contact them.

 

The details of what has happened

On the 15th November, MPs voted to reject the inclusion of a clause that would transfer the recognition of animal sentience into UK law after Brexit.

Animal Sentience was already set out in Article 13 of Title II of the Lisbon Treaty. It reads:

“In formulating and implementing the Union’s agriculture, fisheries, transport, internal market, research and technological development and space policies, the Union and the Member States shall, since animals are sentient beings, pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals, while respecting the legislative or administrative provisions and customs of the Member States relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage.”

An amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill was proposed by Caroline Lucas of the Green Party to include this.

“EU Protocol on animal sentience”, “obligations and rights contained within the EU Protocol on animal sentience set out in Article 13 of Title II of the Lisbon Treaty shall be recognised and available in domestic law on and after exit day, and shall be enforced and followed accordingly.”

The New Clause was rejected with an 18 majority for the Government. 313 against, 295 in favour.

The list of those voting for and against can be seen here.

 

Why the original amendment failed

It seems that government’s main argument is that this is already covered by the Animal Welfare Act 2006. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 “makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to any domestic or captive animal”, but this does not apply to farmed animals in practice. Since these animals, as much as our beloved pets, are sentient beings, they also need to be protected from “unnecessary suffering”. Article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty has done this to some extent so far.

Oliver Letwin (a Conservative MP) noted that Michael Gove was planning to introduce new environmental legislation at some point, suggesting that this might be a better place for the suggestions of some of the amendments than the EU Withdrawal Bill. There are, however, no current guarantees that this would happen, or that it would include animal sentience.

All the Conservative and DUP MPs present voted against all the amendments proposed (while all opposition MPs present voted against), so I suspect it was just a whip issue to speed it up through parliament and avoid criticism of the withdrawal bill as a whole, which might have damaged Brexit negotiations.

 

There is still hope

There are three separate routes through which animal sentience might still be protected.

  1. Firstly, there are two other amendments to the bill which seek to protect animals’ sentience, and are yet to be voted on, so MPs can still have an impact:

Amendment 350, put forward by Labour: This is set to be voted on either December 12th or 19th, although this is not guaranteed and the date could change (I’m currently waiting to find out how to keep an eye on this).

New Clause 28, put forward by MP Kerry McCarthy (Labour): Overall, “this new clause ensures that public authorities carrying out their duties arising by virtue of this act, must have regard to environmental principles currently enshrined in EU law.” Importantly, however, the new clause reiterates the exact wording for Article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty.

These two issues are set to be voted on either December 12th or 19th, although this is not guaranteed and the date could change.

MPs could therefore still be lobbied or persuaded to encourage support for these amendments.

 

  1. Alternatively there is still time for a government amendment to be introduced, and this would have more chance of gaining wider support, and passing through the House of Commons.

As a minister at DEFRA, Michael Gove also has the ability to table a government-backed amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. Previously, when asked, in the Commons in July, if Article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty would be included, Mr Gove told MPs: “Absolutely.” He added: “It is an absolutely vital commitment that we have to ensure that all creation is maintained, enhanced and protected.” (This quote was reported in an article by the Independent here.)

Gove may therefore be susceptible to pressure to introduce an amendment.

David Davis MP, as the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, may also be susceptible to pressure.

MPs could also be lobbied or persuaded to encourage support for these amendments.

 

  1. When the EU Withdrawal Bill goes to the House of Lords, there is another opportunity to make sure animal sentience continues to be recognised in the UK.

The House of Lords will not have the same political split and enforcement of voting by the party whips which clearly led to the government rejecting the initial amendment. This seems likely to have been the case, since all Conservatives present (except Ken Clarke) voted against the amendment, and since all the amendments in the session were rejected by a similar margin.

Peers are not subject to public pressure like MPs, since they are not directly elected. This makes them harder to lobby. Lobbying peers will therefore likely need to be conducted sensitively by pressure groups with insider knowledge (such as the RSPCA, Compassion in World Farming) and through All Party Parliamentary Groups (there is a list here of all APPGs, including one on animal welfare)

 

  1. Rather than bring across Article 13 from the Lisbon Treaty, the Animal Welfare Act could be improved, so that animal sentience of all animals (farmed and wild, as well as domestic) could be protected.

This could actually be far more meaningful a protection for animals than Article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty is. This would avoid the partisan issues of trying to sabotage the Brexit process.

The key message here is that even if Article 13 is not brought into UK law, the issue of animals’ sentience – and their protection – cannot be sidelined.

MPs could therefore still be lobbied or persuaded to encourage a firm commitment by the government to introduce meaningful legislation to protect animals.

As the relevant government ministers, Michael Gove and David Davis could be pressured to introduce meaningful legislation to protect animals.

 

  1. Entirely new legislation could be created, most likely through some sort of environment bill.

This would likely have the same effects as altering the Animal Welfare Act.

 

There is also some precedent to suggest that the government – or Parliament – may be susceptible to public pressure. One example is the change over National insurance. This was set to rise in the last Conservative budget. Concerns were raised that it would squeeze the self-employed and public pressure helped to encourage its abandonment.

There have also been other examples of government U-turns. For one list of examples, see this article.

Accordingly, please follow as many of the actions listed above as you have time to complete!

 

What will be best for animals going forward?

It is unclear whether Article 13 is in itself the best legislation for protecting animals.

Caroline Lucas says it has informed further EU law since it’s passing: “The resulting protocol, which came into force in 1999, changed how animals were regarded and ensured that future EU legislation was not implemented on the basis of the lowest standards of animal welfare, but that it took animal sentience into account. That understanding ​has since informed more than 20 pieces of EU law on animal welfare, including the ban on sealskin imports, the ban on conventional battery cages and the ban on cosmetics testing on animals.”

In contrast, Luke Steele, Campaign Strategist at PETA UK, writes: “Foie gras, fur farming, bull fighting and live exports are just some of the plainly obvious abuses of animals which the European Union allows to be exempt from the Lisbon Treaty, the international agreement which recognises animals as sentient. Not only does permitting the most indefensible cruelties to be inflicted on animals betray the very notion of sentience, but it also shows how downright ineffective the agreement is. Lip-service legislation does nothing in practical terms to enhance the lives of animals.” He suggests, therefore, that a complete change of legislation would be preferable.

Furthermore, the issue is hugely complicated by wider debate around Brexit. The fact that Lucas’ amendment was voted for by all opposition MPs present, and rejected by all government MPs present, reflects that the issue has been subsumed into a wider debate.

Many (probably most) MPs and members of the government do believe in animal sentience. Indeed, there are Conservatives on the All Party Parliamentary Groups for animal welfare and for vegetarianism/veganism. This further suggests that the disagreement is more about technicalities and wider political disagreement than it is about a conflict over animal sentience.

In support of this point, here is (an extract from) a reply that one Conservative MP wrote to one of their constituents: “There is no question that animals have feelings – the fact that they do is self-evident and undeniable. We voted against an unnecessary amendment that would do more harm than good in creating legal confusion around an already adequate piece of legislation.”

Nevertheless, the government must be persuaded to act; we cannot allow the animal sentience issue and the protection of animals to be side-lined by a wider political dispute.

The government is therefore probably more susceptible to general public pressure that the government must act in a meaningful way to protect animals after Brexit, than it is susceptible to public pressure to support specific amendments.

Meanwhile, animal advocacy organisations will be working towards creating a more unified set of asks to the government.

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Event Review: Effective Altruism Global: London, 3rd to 5th November, 2017

Price: **
Ease of use: **
Value for EAA beginners: ****
Value for EAA pros: *****

Effective Altruism is a set of ideas about how to do as much good as we can in a world where we have limited time and limited resources. Effective Altruism Global is the series of conferences organised to support people from across the world in their objectives of doing the most good that they can (find out more here).

This event is in the past, but the purpose of this review is to help animal advocates consider whether they have much to gain from attending a future Effective Altruism Global conference, rather than to give a comprehensive review of the event itself. The theme of this conference was “doing good together”, but I did not feel that the conference was particularly tailored towards this goal, so I think that this review will still be a good insight into how EAGs work.

The weekend was essentially a mixture of talks on a variety of Effective Altruism topics, plus a lot of time built in for conversations and networking, with a break between every talk to allow for this. The talks themselves were useful, but the main benefit for most attendees was probably the conversation and networking opportunities. Attendees were regularly reminded of this by event organisers, and all the talks are being uploaded for free anyway, so those who missed the event will be able to watch these later.

Networking and useful conversations

EAG began on Friday the 3rd November, with a relatively unstructured evening; attendees arrived to receive their lanyards, have some food and drink, but primarily to meet each other, since no talks were organised. The conversation and networking opportunities were slightly structured by the presence of optional “speed networking” activities, as well as tables organised by cause areas. Feeling that speed networking sounded like a painful experience, I went to the animal welfare table, and had some useful conversations.

We were reminded at the start, as well as in Will MacAskill’s opening talk on Saturday morning, that we should not chat exclusively with people who shared a cause interest, but should purposefully try to speak with others and broaden our perspectives. I believe that this is partially useful advice. I had one especially useful conversation with Kerry Vaughan, who works for the Centre for Effective Altruism (and not in reducing animal suffering), who, through a series of insightful questions about my current situation, helped me to feel that I might like to prioritise focusing my career on reducing wild animal suffering (more on this topic below), rather than reducing the suffering of farmed animals. This is because the scale of the problem is larger, and he suggested that as long as I build proper feedback loops into my work, I should be able to realise whether my efforts and contributions would be likely to have any sort of tangible impact in the future.

On the other hand, I should note that some of the most useful conversations that I had were with those who shared a primary focus and interest in reducing animal suffering. I met individuals in a similar situation to me, who do not currently work full-time in reducing animal suffering but are considering doing so in the future; with these individuals I primarily shared ideas and perspectives, and we gave each other suggestions and reflections on our current efforts to reduce animal suffering. It was great to meet an individual named Sagar, for example, who is currently on the board at the Vegan Society (UK) and suggested that I apply to join the board there too, which was something I had never considered doing but which may help to improve my personal impact but also build career capital for the future.

I also met individuals currently working full-time in organisations seeking to reduce animal suffering. As well as sharing ideas with these people, I also built up an understanding of the needs of these organisations, how I might be able to meet these needs and how I might be able to best prepare to get a job working for such organisations. For example, I found conversations with Jamie and Roisin from Animal Charity Evaluators helpful, when thinking how to prepare for potential work with them. I also had some interesting conversations with Matthew Glover, the founder of Veganuary, about the issues that he was facing and about why Veganuary may be a far more effective organisation than its current ranking by Animal Charity Evaluators would suggest.

I did also have useful conversations with several individuals about Effective Altruism more generally, but even then, these conversations focused on “movement building”, which is essentially a secondary “cause area” that I am interested in, as I already focus significant effort in building engagement with Effective Altruism.

My reflections on how to get most out of the conversation and networking opportunities at EA Global conferences are:

  • Make use of opportunities to speak to those interested in reducing animal suffering (and any other cause areas that you are interested in), but do not speak exclusively to these people.
  • Make use of any opportunities to work out who will be attending the conference, and therefore who you would like to have conversations with, or ask specific questions to. In EAG London’s case, there was an app called Bizzabo where you could see who was attending, and I did not make sufficient use of this in advance.
  • Work out which questions you would like answers to, and perhaps think about strategies for how to ask these questions to people who you have not met before and will (mostly) know very little about. On the other hand, you should still remain open to new ideas, and to finding answers to questions that you didn’t know you had!
  • Make use of the speakers’ dedicated “office hours” to ask them about their talks or just to speak to them. I did not do this, and regret missing the opportunity to meet some interesting individuals, mostly notably Persis Eskander who gave the talk on Wild Animal Suffering Research.

The talks

Saturday and Sunday consisted of talks from about 10 until 6, with long lunches and breaks for further conversation and networking. There were multiple talks on reducing animal suffering each day. These are all available online for free here. I was disappointed that all the talks on animal issues clashed with those on AI safety research (this is a cause area that I donate to), but at least I will be able to watch these talks later. The talk on Wild Animal Suffering was a great introduction to a topic that I have not yet read enough about. It was this talk, combined with conversations with a few individuals (including Kerry, mentioned above) which made me feel that I need to devote significantly more attention to this issue. I also found the talk on clean meat informative, especially for gaining a more detailed insight into some of the issues hindering progress in this area at the moment. There were quite a few workshops, which, unfortunately, are not being uploaded online. There were, for example, several workshops on increasing your personal working efficiency, which I found informative.

You can see a full list of the talks that were given here.

My main takeaways – meeting people and learning about wild animal suffering

Personally, I suspect that the main benefits that I gained were in meeting new individuals who I will remain in contact with. I did, however, change my mind about several key issues, as a result of conversations and talks combined. Most notably, I now feel that there is more that I, as an individual, can do to help increase the likelihood of significantly reducing wild animal suffering in the future, and that I should consider these opportunities a priority.  The gist of the argument for why we should consider this issue is that there are many, many times more animals in the wild than in farmed conditions. Animal Charity Evaluators’ page on this topic cites research from the Smithsonian Institution which notes that “at any time, it is estimated that there are some 10 quintillion (10,000,000,000,000,000,000) individual insects alive”. In contrast, Sentience Institute estimates as an upper bound 343,100,000,000 animals farmed by humans in 2017, most of which are fish – view the breakdown here. Although their figures don’t quite match up to Sentience Institute’s, ACE argues that “there are about a billion times more wild animals than animals in any situation directly under human control—and even if our estimates are significantly off, or we exclude invertebrates from the analysis, the gap in numbers is still extremely large” (same link as above).

Although we may feel more responsible for farmed animals, there are still sentient beings in the wild, whose interests we should not ignore. In particular, certain types of animals – called “r-strategists” – have developed through evolution the strategy of producing huge numbers of offspring, who live only a short time and most of whom die (possibly painfully) before they make it to adulthood or breeding maturity. It is therefore likely that the death of these animals causing them greater suffering than any pleasure that they may experience in their brief lives. Given the unfathomably large number of animals involved, this then accounts for a huge amount of suffering. There are many questions around such issues: the extent to which insects (who account for a huge proportion of such animals) can actually suffer, as well as which interventions (if any) are possible now or would be in the future. It is precisely because of these unanswered questions that raising awareness of wild animal suffering as a cause area, and research into wild animal suffering, are urgent priorities.

At the least, I feel that I need to read up more on the topic, and discuss it with interested individuals at Effective Animal Altruism London events, but I will also look to see if there is some small amount of useful research that I could conduct at this stage.

Is it worth the price and the travel?

At £300, this is not a trivial question. For that price, you could do some pretty great things.

ACE estimates that every $1000 donated to The Humane League “would spare 100,000 to 1.7 million animals from life in industrial agriculture.” With the current conversion rate that £300 equals $395.70, this would translate as 39,526 to 671,937 animals spared from a life in factory farming through a donation of the same amount. For one human comparison, GiveWell’s most recent calculation estimates that for the Against Malaria Foundation, their highest-recommended charity for attempting to save human lives, it costs $4,999 to save one life (see detail on the calculation here). Therefore, the money used to attend EAG would be the equivalent of 7.91% of a human life. There are obviously huge amounts of uncertainty in these estimates (and I suspect that they are optimistic for The Humane League’s impact), but the fact remains: money matters, and £300 is a lot of money!

That does not, however, mean that you would have donated this money otherwise – on a personal budgeting level, I considered EAG to be somewhere between a holiday, a recreational activity and an investment in my career. I do no regret attending, as the location this time was convenient for me, so there were no significant travel difficulties. Nevertheless, I did walk away feeling that I wouldn’t be travelling to any more distant EAG conferences any time soon.

I suspect that EAGs are most useful for those already heavily involved in the Effective Altruism (or Effective Animal Advocacy) community, as they give you a chance to meet lots of intelligent people, share ideas and perspectives, and organise your plans with colleagues (and future colleagues) who you may otherwise have been unable to meet with. For such people, the talks are a lower priority, and the weekend is essentially a great opportunity to have lots of people who you want to speak to (from across the world) in one place. For such people, EAG is definitely worth the price.

For those less involved currently, EAG probably helps you to get lots of new ideas and get some useful networking done (especially if you make this a priority and use the time well). To some extent, EAG was very personally motivating, as I met lots of people who were doing great things to make the world a better place, who can act as role models. This is probably especially helpful for people who do not have an active local Effective Altruism group that they are able to meet up with and contact. On the reverse of the same coin, however, I (and a few others I spoke to) felt slightly deflated due to the feeling of being less knowledgeable, less useful and likely having lower potential to do good in the future than a large number of the people there! For people not already very involved in the EA community, then, EAG is probably still worth it if the logistical difficulties are not too great, but if you need to travel far, the costs may outweigh the benefits.

If money is more of a barrier, there are options for a reduced ticket price, which may make it easier for some. The benefits that you receive from attending will obviously depend on your own position and goals for the event. For example, travelling across the world just to gain some inspiration may not be the best idea, unless you feel particularly lacking in inspiration, but if you are considering a career in one of the cause areas (or are already pursuing such a career), then it may well be worth it!

I would encourage interested people to attend, but to make the most of your networking opportunities while you are there and to prepare some ideas and questions in advance.