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Animal sentience

What’s the issue

As a member of the EU, animal sentience was recognised in the UK through Article 13 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU. This placed a duty on government to have regard for animal welfare when formulating and implementing policy. Article 13 did not automatically come over to UK law when we left the EU.

This means the UK has lost the legal principle that underpins animal welfare protections. While this may seem purely symbolic there are practical implications. The loss of the duty to consider animal welfare when formulating policy comes at the most critical point in the development of agricultural and trade policies for a generation.

Our reputation for high animal welfare standards is key to securing new trade partners around the world. Therefore, enshrining sentience in law is vital to send a strong message about our commitment to animal welfare standards.

We know this issue is a priority for the veterinary profession. In 2017, over 1,200 veterinary professionals signed an open letter calling on government to legislate.


What's our view?

It’s essential that the government urgently passes legislation that enshrines animal sentience in UK law. While the government has continually indicated support for this, progress has stalled with growing demands on Parliamentary time.

In our position we recommend that legislation should include the following:

  1. A definition of sentience. We believe sentience should be understood to mean the capacity to have feelings, including pain and pleasure, and imply a level of conscious awareness.
  2. A duty to consider animal welfare for public authorities when formulating and implementing policies.
  3. A definition of animals that is based on that found in the Animal Welfare Act 2006 with the inclusion of all vertebrates with the addition of decapods and cephalopods.
  4. A named individual within government who is tasked with regularly engaging with research and declaring when the evidence suggests species are sentient.
  5. A consideration of animal welfare that is not limited to mitigating negative consequences but is also a positive duty to improve animal welfare outcomes.

Get involved

Contact our policy team for more information.