UK Formally Recognizes Animals as Sentient Beings

Image: Trinity Kubassek/Pexels

by Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer

The UK government is formally recognizing animals as sentient beings for the first time — a major win for animal welfare activists. This announcement comes along with a series of bills that ensure the health and safety of Britain’s animals, including microchipping cats, stopping the ownership of primate as pets, restricting live animal exports, and potentially banning ivory, shark fins, and foie gras. 

Why This Matters: Poor treatment of animals not only harms the animals themselves, but also human welfare. The coronavirus pandemic has shown that keeping animals in cramped, unsanitary conditions can allow them to transfer diseases to humans — an issue that affected Europe as COVID-19 spread from minks to humans. 

Declaring animals legally sentient has wide-ranging policy implications. Laws that encourage animal welfare could allow for more sustainable and ethical farming practices, a reduction in climate change, and more effective pandemic prevention. 

Animals bring immense value to people, as such, our laws should protect them from exploitation and cruelty. 

“A Nation of Animal Lovers”

The UK’s  action plan for animal welfare includes:

But the use of cages for poultry and farrowing crates for pigs will not be banned, as many animal advocates called for. Instead, farmers will be given monetary incentives to improve animal health. The UK also promised to uphold animal welfare in its trade deals, but didn’t solidify it into law. 

James West, senior policy manager at Compassion in World Farming, emphasized that the UK shouldn’t sacrifice animal welfare for trade deals:

All of these positive announcements must be supported by a comprehensive method of production labeling, and it is essential that the government ensure these much-needed animal welfare improvements are not undermined by future trade agreements.”

But having the government formally recognizing the sentience of animals is a step in the right direction. George Eustice, the environment secretary, said:

We are a nation of animal lovers and were the first country in the world to pass animal welfare laws…As an independent nation, we are now able to go further than ever to build on our excellent track record.”


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