ANIMALS AS SENTIENT IN THE UK
By Alex Bichara
The latest development in terms of animal sentience in law comes from the United Kingdom, where it was revealed that new laws are now being considered to formally recognize animals’ ability to think and feel. As he launched the government’s plan, Environment Secretary George Eustice explained that the UK is “a nation of animal lovers” and was “the first country in the world to pass animal welfare laws,” according to Fiona Harvey in a 2021 article for The Guardian. The new laws are part of a series of bills involving the microchipping of cats, pet theft, banning of dog shock collars, and restriction of glue traps for wild birds. The bills will also prevent people from taking in primates as pets, importing hunting trophies, and exporting most live animals, among others. In short, the new laws are meant to provide more extensive protection for animals compared to country’s existing animal welfare laws. The new bills are what Humane Society International/uk Executive Director Claire Bass has called a “proactive agenda” that “animals suffering both here and overseas for food, fur, entertainment, the pet trade” deserve. The most significant section perhaps is one that acknowledges vertebrate animals’ awareness of what happens to them, as reported by Tom Williams in a 2021 article for Metro UK. According to The Guardian, many of the bills to be considered by the government have either “been several years in preparation” or “been the subject of decades-long campaigns.” Animal welfare activists have understandably welcomed the new laws, but there’s still much to be done. Some practices, such as the use of cages and crates for poultry and pigs, are not set to be banned in the UK but looked into. Another issue is the UK government’s unwillingness to put into law their mission to consider animal welfare in trade deals. All of this begs the question, what does “sentience” actually mean in the law and what does it mean for animals?