Reflections on grassroots protests

Disclaimer: I am an employee of Sentience Institute but, as usual, this post represents entirely my own views.

There are already excellent resources considering the effectiveness of grassroots protests and how to maximise their effectiveness. These include:

  • Animal Charity Evaluators’ report on protests. The list of likely positive and negative outcomes seems quite comprehensive, and the relevant evidence is clearly summarised.
  • Sentience Institute’s foundational question summaries, especially on confrontation vs. nonconfrontation, individual vs. institutional interventions and messaging, and controversial publicity stunts vs. other tactics.
  • A 2015 essay by Jacy Reese on “Confrontation, Consumer Action, and
    Triggering Events.”
  • A report by the Anyi Institute, commissioned by Open Philanthropy Project, on “Funding and Growing Social Movements.” This includes an explanation of a theory of how grassroots protests fit into a wider social movement “ecology,” evidence that they are underfunded relative to their effectiveness, and some ideas for how to measure impact.
  • A 2016 summary of relevant evidence on direct action by Zach Groff, considering Direct Action Everywhere’s tactics.

Should we support grassroots protest with marginal EAA resources?

Individuals often have strong intuitions on the foundational questions in effective animal advocacy. Lack of awareness of particular arguments or pieces of evidence could lead to excessive optimism or pessimism about particular intervention types.

Other possible causes of excessive optimism about the effectiveness of grassroots protests:

  • Preference for radicalism — Some interventions, such as those to improve the provision of animal-free food or to improve farmed animal welfare, may seem frustratingly slow and conservative. Grassroots protests may feel more direct, rapid, radical, and consistent with activists’ own beliefs.
  • Getting swept up in mass enthusiasm — Engagement from activists may be a poor proxy for effects on the targets of the protest, be they institutional actors or the general public.
  • Assumption that all publicity is good publicity — The way that society frames discussion of animal issues may be more important than how highly the public prioritise animal issues.[1] High salience of an issue could encourage polarization, which could encourage stagnation longer-term.[2]
  • Overestimating the public’s enthusiasm for change — To the extent that we think that grassroots protests are likely to have diminishing returns and should be used sparingly, it may be better not to use them at this time. [3]

Other possible causes of excessive pessimism about the effectiveness of grassroots protests:

  • Measurability bias — It’s tempting to focus on interventions that have more measurable outcomes and quicker feedback loops, such as corporate welfare campaigns, because the effects are clearer. However, more measurable interventions are not necessarily higher impact.
  • Short-term focus — Certainly, some forms of grassroots protest actions are high risk. For example, high-profile protests may be perceived negatively and shift the framing of debate in an undesired direction.[4] Nevertheless, certain protests could have high positive impact if they shift the framing of public discussion in a positive direction, build substantial momentum for progress on animal issues, or secure major institutional commitments.
  • Aversion to confrontation — Even if an intervention encourages a backfire effect among some of its audience, its overall effects could be positive.
  • Low precedent within EAA — Apart from groups that use protests as part of campaigns to secure corporate welfare commitments, there are few groups funded by Open Philanthropy Project or recommended by Animal Charity Evaluators that use grassroots protests extensively.

Below are several different examples of grassroots protest tactics, with those that I think are the highest priority to support with marginal EAA resources listed nearer the top:

  • The Humane League and the Open Wing Alliance — The welfare campaigns that these groups work on are very cost-effective on short timeframes.[5] Protests are a key part of these campaigns and the movement building efforts of these groups. On longer timeframes, however, I am uncertain whether welfare campaigns encourage more momentum for further change than complacency.[6]
  • Animal Rebellion — This group (first protest scheduled for October 2019) has a clear institutional focus. It is taking advantage of the window of opportunity in the UK opened by Extinction Rebellion’s protests and the government’s declaration of a “climate emergency.” Given the disruptive nature of the protests, I am concerned about the risks of alienating the public and of activists burning out. Additionally, the goals of the environmental movement are not always aligned with those of effectiveness-focused animal advocates, so greater collaboration could have negative effects in the long term.[7]
  • The Save Movement — The Save Movement has built up an impressive network of local groups that conduct regular vigils, “bearing witness” to animal suffering. The direct impact of these actions is likely low, since the disruption does not seem likely to pose a substantial threat to the slaughterhouses’ profitability. However, the large numbers of individuals that have been inspired to join vigils could possibly be mobilised for targeted campaigns with more specific institutional demands. The Save Movement is exploring this sort of opportunity, having seconded three staff members to work full-time on Animal Rebellion.
  • Anonymous for the Voiceless — This group’s street demonstrations mobilise large numbers of regular activists to engage in individual vegan outreach using videos. Given the number of these events, even if this use of time would not likely be cost-effective for paid employees to conduct directly, it could still add up to a substantial impact overall. Research I’m doing for SI in the first draft stage has mixed implications for this.[13] On the other hand, I worry that the use of masks is counterproductive and that the activists could be engaged in higher impact interventions. 
  • Surge — Large scale marches for animals without specific institutional demands, organised by groups like Surge, have similar promise to The Save Movement’s vigils. However, I suspect that annual marches are less effective at building up a community of regular activists. In the short-term, I would guess that the chanting and focus on individual dietary change alienates more people than it encourages to reduce their animal product consumption.
  • Direct Action Everywhere — DxE’s  focus on systemic change (that is, longer-term impact), including via movement building, is great. My impression is that the narrative is really appealing to a lot of animal advocates. The focus of many of their protests on confronting individuals about their current consumption habits seems less promising to me. I also worry that these protests are shifting public discussion towards a more negative view of animal activists and the changes that they advocate for.

How can organisers maximise the impact of grassroots protests?

Questions to consider when seeking to maximise the impact of grassroots protests include:

  • How can you increase the likelihood that media coverage and public discussion will be supportive of your aims, rather than hostile? For example, can you ensure that you use institutionally focused messaging? Can you target locations that symbolise the most unpopular and emotionally salient aspects of animal agriculture, such as slaughterhouses?[8] If the protests cause hostile public reactions, they could do more damage than good overall.
  • How can you ensure that publicity and the increased salience of animal issues are converted into positive progress for animals? For example, what are the concrete demands that you will make and how likely are these to be accepted?[9] Some animal advocacy groups have built excellent support bases, but have not (so far) used this mobilisation to make concrete demands of relevant institutional actors.[10] This seems like a missed opportunity.
  • How can the sustainability of this type of action be ensured? Protests that risk arrest could be demoralising if change is not forthcoming,[11] as well as damaging to the individuals involved.
  • The factors listed by ACE’s report.

Research that I’d love to see

The research suggestions below could support improvements the effectiveness of grassroots protest groups and help to support resource prioritisation decisions in the EAA community. If you’re interested in conducting any of this research, feel free to get in contact with me directly at james_a_harris [at]; I’d love to chat and possibly to help out directly.

  • Surveys conducted before and after a wave of large-scale mass protest to evaluate the levels of support for the protesters’ demands and for other animal advocacy issues. Some questions could be based on those in SI’s survey. Asking participants in the second survey whether they had heard of the protest group would enable separate analysis of a “treatment” group (those who have heard of the group’s protests) and an imperfect “control” group (those who have not).[12]
  • RCTs testing the effects of variations in messaging strategies, calls to action, and sites of protest (e.g. slaughterhouses, supermarkets, or government buildings) on support for the protesters’ demands and the likelihood of engaging with the protests.
  • Tracking of media mentions of the protests, categorised on a scale from opposition to support. Noting features associated with particular protests (e.g. target location) could enable the tracking of correlations between use of those features the volume and supportiveness of media coverage. Tracking would be easier with online articles, e.g. via Google alerts.


[1] The importance of issue framing has been a consistent theme in Sentience Institute’s case studies.

[2] An example of where this may have happened is in the anti-abortion movement; I have a research report on this forthcoming for Sentience Institute. See also SI’s summary of the arguments for and against “controversial publicity stunts vs. other tactics.”

[3] It may be better, for example, to focus the use of these tactics around trigger events such as a food safety scandal, or the release of undercover investigation footage that has received unusually high media attention.

[4] See, by comparison, the effect that Operation Rescue has had on the anti-abortion movement.

[5] Although there is some scope for disagreement with this based on the size of the welfare improvements (e.g. see this comment by Wayne Hsiung of Direct Action Everywhere) and the possibility that companies will backslide on their commitments (see this report by Rethink Priorities), numerous groups have come to similar conclusions about the cost-effectiveness of these campaigns: Open Philanthropy Project, Animal Charity Evaluators, Founders Pledge, Rethink Priorities, and (sort of) Charity Entrepreneurship.

[6] I am about 75% confident that the movement-building effects of these campaigns are substantial enough that the interventions are positive overall, even if they do have small effects on encouraging complacency. I am less confident that the campaigns have substantial positive effects on increasing momentum for radical change, such as ending factory farming.

[7] See SI’s summaries of the arguments and evidence for “Broad vs. animal focus” and for “Animal protection vs. environmental vs. human health focus.”

[8] In Sentience Institute’s 2017 survey in the US, more people (47%) supported a ban on slaughterhouses than supported a ban on animal farming (32%).

[9] The protests by The Humane League provide a good example of where clear, concrete demands are being made. The protests are used to put pressure on a company to make a specific welfare pledge that has usually already been made by other companies. Consequently, large numbers of organisations agree to THL’s demands. A similar approach could be used for government targets.

[10] See discussion of The Save Movement, Surge, and Anonymous for the Voiceless above.

[11] Alesha E. Doan, Opposition & Intimidation: The Abortion Wars & Strategies of Political Harassment (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007), 88, writing on Operation Rescue, a direct action group in the anti-abortion movement, notes that “Many rank-and-file members could not keep up with the hectic pace of blockades, arrests, and imprisonment, especially as jail sentences were stiffened. By 1990, Operation Rescue was down to a core of ‘professional rescuers’ who traveled from city to city living off free food and lodging provided by pro-life sympathizers.” On page 86, Doan notes that “By 1990, Operation Rescue’s activities had significantly diminished—a paltry 34 blockades were held that year, and only 1,363 protesters were arrested [compared to 201 and 12,358 respectively in the previous year].”

[12] For an example of a paper that used a similar methodology, see Charles H. Franklin and Liane C. Kosaki, “Republican Schoolmaster: The U.S. Supreme Court, Public Opinion, and Abortion,” The American Political Science Review 83, no. 3 (1989), 764-7 and the methodological discussion in John Hanley, Michael Salamone, and Matthew Wright, “Reviving the Schoolmaster: Reevaluating Public Opinion in the Wake of Roe v. Wade,” Political Research Quarterly 65, no. 2 (2011), 408-21.

[13] Although I can’t condense the relevant evidence into a short footnote, the anti-abortion movement has used “sidewalk counselling” outreach extensively, but this seems unlikely to have had much/any positive effect on the rate of abortion incidence. However,  I place high weight on the evidence from the health behaviour literature that “brief interventions” can be effective, and meta-analyses I have seen suggest that small effect sizes are most likely. This is similar to other forms of individual intervention in the health behaviour literature. Additionally, there is some evidence suggesting that brief interventions are not made more effective by increasing the amount of contact time involved in interactions. This suggests that interventions used in the farmed animal movement that rely on short interactions to encourage behaviour change, such as street outreach promoting veganism, may have some effect.


Monthly newsletter; April 2018

This is a new type of post, where every month, I send out an update with around 10 highlights of news articles and EAA posts that you might have missed. After today, I will only be sending these out by email, but since the mailing list is new, I am posting it here for the first time.

To sign up to future newsletters, and updates about new posts, sign up here.

But Can They Suffer posts:

Book review: Neil Rackham (1995) SPIN Selling (Gower Publishing Limited: Aldershot)

Effective Altruism or Effective Animal Advocacy posts:

  • A new career path recommendation – becoming a China specialist (80,000 Hours)
  • A useful deep-dive into the cost effectiveness of The Humane League’s cost effectiveness (Avi Norowitz)

Other interesting news:

  • France has banned labelling which refers to meat alternatives as meat. This opinion piece suggests that the ban might force creative marketing in plant-based meat; is there something to be said for pushing plant-based products to innovate and move away from mimicry of meat, whilst pinning our hopes on direct replacements on clean meat? (Plant-based News)
  • Meanwhile, GFI continues to fight against similar efforts in the USA (GFI)
  • A survey suggests a much more favourable consumer response to the term “plant-based” than vegan (Food Navigator)
  • The UK has introduced an ivory ban. Although this might seem like a way to distract from the issue of factory farming (people focus on issues that affect a small number of animals, which are easier to empathise with), it suggests that total bans on animal products are possible. Perhaps the next step will be fur – this is certainly something that Open Cages, PETA and others are campaigning for. Who knows what would follow after that? (Plant-based News)
  • An amusing article which confuses correlation and causation, and therefore claims that Instagram is “THE SURPRISING REASON WHY VEGANISM IS NOW MAINSTREAM” (The Independent)
  • A new plant-based meat company, launched by GFI’s previous senior scientist, is experimenting with production technologies (GFI)
  • I continue to have discussions with people about impact investing, but I continue to feel pessimistic about the opportunities arising from it, since looking into the topic for my post in March. See this article which assumes that impact investing is positive. (Plant-based News)
  • Two examples of UK mainstream media coverage of EAA topics – BBC newsnight on clean meat and BBC’s Countryfile on Animal Equality undercover investigationsBBC’s Countryfile on Animal Equality undercover investigations

(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.

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.

(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,


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.