Animals will be formally recognised as sentient beings for the first time in UK law, thanks to a new Bill.
The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill was introduced in parliament today (13 May).
The Government says the legislation will “ensure that animal sentience is taken into account when developing policy across Government through the creation of an animal sentience committee, which will be made up of animal experts from within the field”.
By formally recognising vertebrate animals as sentient beings, new laws will have to take into account that animals can “experience feelings such as pain or joy”.
A spokesman for Defra said: “The Bill will underpin the Government’s action plan for animal welfare, which launched yesterday and 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. Now we have left the EU, we have the opportunity to remake laws and go further to promote animal welfare by making sure that all Government departments properly consider animal sentience when designing policy, covering all vertebrate animals from farm to forest.”
The Bill will also ensure ministers update parliament on recommendations made by the animal sentience committee.
Launching it, 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.”
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Humane Society International UK executive director claire Bass said 45 leading UK animal protection organisations have been calling for the Bill.
“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.”
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