Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill: Don’t believe the hype

The much heralded Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill has been passed pending royal consent.

While it is a welcome addition that animals such as crabs and lobsters are explicitly recognised, a result hard fought for by dedicated campaigners, we disagree that the Act will be the earth shattering moment is it being made out to be by some.

In practice, the new legislation more or less replaces Article 13 of Title II of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which applied to the UK before leaving the EU.

Article 13 states:

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…..”

What too many who cite Article 13 neglect to follow on with however is the next paragraph stating that this is to be carried out:

“…while respecting the legislative or administrative provisions and customs of the Member States relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage.”

What this effectively did was to stipulate certain actions with one breath, then in the next provide such a broad caveat that the original mandate ends up pretty much not worth the ink.

Factory farming, slaughter, bloodsports, animal experiments, live exports, the massacre of aquatic animals…..all of this and more continued unimpeded.

With regards to the new Act, it’s stated “The purpose (of the Animal Sentience Committee created through the legislation) is that of ensuring that, in any further formulation or implementation of the policy, the government has all due regard to the ways in which the policy might have an adverse effect on the welfare of animals as sentient beings.”

But then:

Recommendations made by the Committee must respect legislative or administrative provisions and customs relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage.”

This is familiar.

The explanatory notes go on to state that:

The Bill recognises that animals are sentient beings and creates an accountability mechanism which aims to ensure that UK Ministers have due regard to their welfare needs when formulating and implementing government policy.”

But that this:

does not mean that the welfare of sentient animals should take precedence over other considerations when formulating or implementing a particular policy.”

There it is.

Despite the noise, despite the headlines, despite the assurances, our right to torture, slaughter, subjugate and exploit animals remains protected by the state.

What we believe is happening here is an attempt to sell us an empty box, as part of an opportunistic attempt by government to garner public support through the illusion of action.

We’re back to a situation where the sentience of animals is recognised in law, while the same law simultaneously permits their enslavement and murder.

We believe that animal organisations need to be very clear about the realities of the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act. If not it’s helping politicians create a veneer of honour while they throw billions of animals onto the fire.

The words of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs sum it up:

While its (the Bill) aim is to improve the policy and decision-making processes of Government, the committee’s reports will not bind Ministers to any particular course of action. Ministers will remain free to determine the right balance between animal welfare and other important considerations.”

the right balance” being the business of misery and death continuing as usual.



* The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act will extend to the whole of the UK , but will not apply to policies implemented or formulated by Ministers in devolved administrations.

Pic credit: ASR Activism Photography

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