(Outdated post) Call to action: Response to the UK government consultation on the draft Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) Bill

Previously, I posted about the need to pressure the government about suitably protecting consideration for animal sentience after Brexit. The government responded by announcing a new bill. PETA have written a great guideline for responses to the consultation here. I have mostly followed their wording, but have made a few additions, which I have copied below.

Enter your responses to the consultation here.

If you are short on time, please simply copy and paste responses from PETA (and perhaps any additions that I have made below, if you like. If you have a little more time, it would be best to personalise responses.

Note that I have only included answers below which differ from PETA’s original wording – otherwise I have simply copied their guide responses.

  1. If you answered ‘yes’, what definition should we use?

It is important that the Bill recognises that sentience can be applied to most non-human animals (see next answer).

Otherwise, PETA’s suggestions for wording defining sentience itself are good:

“the capacity to feel or perceive things, including but not limited to awareness of one’s surroundings, relationships with others, and both physical and emotional sensations such as pain, fear, and distress.”

  1. If you answered ‘yes’, what definition should we use?

I would suggest extending it to as far as the closest thing to “consensus” of the scientific community goes, in terms of which animals are considered sentient, but that where there is doubt, assuming that those non-human animals are sentient. E.g. it seems fairly clear that many invertebrates are capable of at least physical suffering, and so should be included within the bill. The following survey of the scientific literature may be useful in summarising the existing scientific understanding.

https://was-research.org/writing-by-others/invertebrate-species-feel-pain/

Therefore, PETA’s suggestion seems good: “ To avoid doubt, this definition should at the very least incorporate all mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, cephalopods, and decapod crustaceans and should be defined so as to allow additional invertebrate groups to be included based on appropriate scientific evidence.”

  1. If you answered ‘yes’, what definition should be used, and should the list of needs in the Animal Welfare Act 2006 be changed?

I support PETA’s suggestions: “The list of needs in Section 9(2) of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 should serve as a starting point to bring animal-welfare legislation in line with public opinion and contemporary scientific understanding of sentience. For example, the need for animals to be explicitly protected from emotional and physical pain, suffering, injury and disease should be incorporated into the definition. The legislation should also recognise the desire of animals to hold personhood, bodily liberty, and self-determination in light of scientific consensus that these traits exist in species including but not limited to great apes, grey parrots, elephants, dolphins, and cetaceans.”

I would also add that it is a huge priority that the definition of “unnecessary suffering” in the Animal Welfare Act 2006 be tightened up. Currently, this legislation permits (in practice) huge amounts of unnecessary suffering, through both regular farming practices which keep animals in intensive confinement and suffer painful interventions, but also due to mistakes, which are not prosecuted: an estimated 1.8 million pigs regain consciousness on the slaughterhouse production line each year after stunning and being fully conscious as they die from blood loss.

  1. Do you have any views or comments on the consequences of this new duty?

The duty as it stands in the draft bill requires Ministers of the Crown solely to take animal sentience into account during the decision making process. This requirement should apply to all public policymakers – including but not limited to ministers, local authorities, and devolved legislatures.

It is of vital importance that the bill does not offer important protections on paper whilst permitting loopholes in the law which allow other policy makers to bypass its requirements. To guarantee that the requirement to recognise sentience is being adhered to correctly, a mechanism must be put in place to ensure the government’s full and consistent execution of this duty.

  1. Do you have any views about whether a different formulation or approach might achieve the policy objectives? Views would also be welcome on how the approaches adopted in other countries might apply here.

I suspect that amendments and tightening up of the initial Animal Welfare Act 2006 might be better (especially as I think that many of the definitions contained within that Act need significant tightening), but I am not confident about this (or indeed if this is possible).

Otherwise, I agree with PETA that the Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) Bill should be used as the backbone to introduce other forward-thinking animal-protection measures to ensure that the United Kingdom is at the forefront of global animal welfare.

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