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How the debate about animals feeling pain became headline news

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Government has pledged to enshrine animal sentience into law, but how did we get here?

Recently, the debate about whether animals can feel pain has been headline news thanks to a vote on bringing EU legislation into UK law via the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill.

Currently, animal sentience is recognised in the UK through Article 13 of Title II of the Lisbon Treaty, known as NC30. This specifically recognises that animals are sentient i.e. capable of feeling pain and emotions. Until we leave the EU NC30 applies as before, but in order to retain this specific law and the protection it affords post-March 2019 parliament must transfer it into UK law.

NC30 says the following:

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

When voting on whether this should be transferred into domestic law, the vote did not pass and a media dispute arose about whether this means the UK does not recognise animals as sentient beings.

Campaigners as well as media outlets were quick to accuse the government of insensitivity towards animals — which is perhaps unsurprising looking at the current government’s approach to fox hunting and ivory trading bans. MP and Green Party co-chair Caroline Lucas urged the government to embrace NC30 into UK law. But does this vote actually mean animals are left unprotected?

Not so, according to the government. The government’s justification for its vote is that animals are adequately covered by the Animal Welfare Act 2006. However, a perusal of the act quickly reveals that sentience is not mentioned, nor does it cover all animals. The act only covers domestic animals, meaning that animals in the wild and in laboratories — arguably those that need protection the most — are not extended the same protection.

But the government isn’t bowing to the pressure to enshrine NC30.

Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, has said that sentience will be recognised post-Brexit and that his government would make changes as necessary to ensure this through UK law. Just this week, he pledged that new legislation will see animal abusers jailed for up to five years and promised a “Brexit for animals”. He added:

“Animals are sentient beings who feel pain and suffering, so we are writing that principle into law and ensuring that we protect their welfare.”

This has led to a sigh of relief from some campaigners while others remain sceptical, as transferring NC30 would have guaranteed a solution.

Ultimately, the government should have voted to transfer this crucial law, as it adds an additional layer of protection for animals in the UK and would ensure that they are as well protected post-Brexit as they are pre-Brexit.

I don’t think it was any of the 52%’s intention for animals to suffer as a result of their vote. The government should have followed the EU’s lead on animal sentience, as EU legislation has already made vast improvements to animals’ lives by, for example, banning cosmetics testing on animals. Making a promise to look into it and make changes is all well and good, however why fix something that is not broken? Why not keep NC30 and build on it if the true intention of the government is to improve animal welfare?

Adiba Bassam is a BPTC graduate and an aspiring barrister, currently working as a legal assistant at a London chambers.

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13 Comments

Lord Blingham

Nothing to see here. Mooooooove along.

Anonymous

Don’t milk it.

Not Amused

Membership of the EU has forced the UK to accept lower standards of animal welfare than it would otherwise have implemented – see live animal transport. The EU is not good on this topic and it surprises me that people assume it is.

Anonymous

That is simply not correct, you are misleading people.

Corbyn. Sympathiser

*it starts to rain*
Not Amused: tsk, EUrocrats again.

*NA spills some Coca-Cola*

Not Amused: bloody bonkers Brussels brutes

*comet on collision course with Earth is destroyed, thanks in no small part to research by the European Space Agency*

Not Amused: So I’m just supposed to accept it was good that Britons have lost the opportunity to become free entrepreneurs of the post apocalypse hellscape? Tusk is a liar.

Anonymous

It is correct. A healthy disregard for sentimentality towards animals was one of the few good things about EU policy.

I despair at the fuck-witted attitude of the British to animals.

The first thing we should do is abolish animal charities. Hundreds of millions of pounds every year going to wretched dogs homes, donkey sanctuaries and the rest, rather than to the benefit of people. All because the donors are incapable of relating to human beings in a normal empathic manner. What a nation of emotional retards.

Anonymous

But think of all the poor sad donkeys!

Anonymous

There are sectors of the UK Agricultural industry that operate production systems that provide better welfare conditions through lower stocking rates, compared to similar systems operated in other EU states. To say that NA’s statement is untrue is therefore, not completely true either. In fact, its fair to suggest, given that UK Farmers have adopted higher welfare standards while operating under EU Regulation, in some sectors of the industry at least, that the UK Industry will, at the very least, maintain existing welfare standards, if not introduce improved standards once its outside EU Regulation. The flip side of higher welfare standards is increased production cost, which is ultimately reflected in the cost of the finished product to the consumer. Not everyone can afford to pay the price of the ultimate best practice in farm animal welfare, so lower cost production systems are required. Of itself, that does not mean that animals are being treated badly, or that EU Regulation is ineffective.There are sectors of the UK Agricultural industry that operate production systems that provide better welfare conditions through lower stocking rates, compared to similar systems operated in other EU states. To say that NA’s statement is untrue is therefore, not completely true either. In fact, its fair to suggest, given that UK Farmers have adopted higher welfare standards while operating under EU Regulation, in some sectors of the industry at least, that the UK Industry will, at the very least, maintain existing welfare standards, if not introduce improved standards once its outside EU Regulation. The flip side of higher welfare standards is increased production cost, which is ultimately reflected in the cost of the finished product to the consumer. Not everyone can afford to pay the price of the ultimate best practice in farm animal welfare, so lower cost production systems are required. Of itself, that does not mean that animals are being treated badly, or that EU Regulation is ineffective.There are sectors of the UK Agricultural industry that operate production systems that provide better welfare conditions through lower stocking rates, compared to similar systems operated in other EU states. To say that NA’s statement is untrue is therefore, not completely true either. In fact, its fair to suggest, given that UK Farmers have adopted higher welfare standards while operating under EU Regulation, in some sectors of the industry at least, that the UK Industry will, at the very least, maintain existing welfare standards, if not introduce improved standards once its outside EU Regulation. The flip side of higher welfare standards is increased production cost, which is ultimately reflected in the cost of the finished product to the consumer. Not everyone can afford to pay the price of the ultimate best practice in farm animal welfare, so lower cost production systems are required. Of itself, that does not mean that animals are being treated badly, or that EU Regulation is ineffective.There are sectors of the UK Agricultural industry that operate production systems that provide better welfare conditions through lower stocking rates, compared to similar systems operated in other EU states. To say that NA’s statement is untrue is therefore, not completely true either. In fact, its fair to suggest, given that UK Farmers have adopted higher welfare standards while operating under EU Regulation, in some sectors of the industry at least, that the UK Industry will, at the very least, maintain existing welfare standards, if not introduce improved standards once its outside EU Regulation. The flip side of higher welfare standards is increased production cost, which is ultimately reflected in the cost of the finished product to the consumer. Not everyone can afford to pay the price of the ultimate best practice in farm animal welfare, so lower cost production systems are required. Of itself, that does not mean that animals are being treated badly, or that EU Regulation is ineffective.There are sectors of the UK Agricultural industry that operate production systems that provide better welfare conditions through lower stocking rates, compared to similar systems operated in other EU states. To say that NA’s statement is untrue is therefore, not completely true either. In fact, its fair to suggest, given that UK Farmers have adopted higher welfare standards while operating under EU Regulation, in some sectors of the industry at least, that the UK Industry will, at the very least, maintain existing welfare standards, if not introduce improved standards once its outside EU Regulation. The flip side of higher welfare standards is increased production cost, which is ultimately reflected in the cost of the finished product to the consumer. Not everyone can afford to pay the price of the ultimate best practice in farm animal welfare, so lower cost production systems are required. Of itself, that does not mean that animals are being treated badly, or that EU Regulation is ineffective.There are sectors of the UK Agricultural industry that operate production systems that provide better welfare conditions through lower stocking rates, compared to similar systems operated in other EU states. To say that NA’s statement is untrue is therefore, not completely true either. In fact, its fair to suggest, given that UK Farmers have adopted higher welfare standards while operating under EU Regulation, in some sectors of the industry at least, that the UK Industry will, at the very least, maintain existing welfare standards, if not introduce improved standards once its outside EU Regulation. The flip side of higher welfare standards is increased production cost, which is ultimately reflected in the cost of the finished product to the consumer. Not everyone can afford to pay the price of the ultimate best practice in farm animal welfare, so lower cost production systems are required. Of itself, that does not mean that animals are being treated badly, or that EU Regulation is ineffective.There are sectors of the UK Agricultural industry that operate production systems that provide better welfare conditions through lower stocking rates, compared to similar systems operated in other EU states. To say that NA’s statement is untrue is therefore, not completely true either. In fact, its fair to suggest, given that UK Farmers have adopted higher welfare standards while operating under EU Regulation, in some sectors of the industry at least, that the UK Industry will, at the very least, maintain existing welfare standards, if not introduce improved standards once its outside EU Regulation. The flip side of higher welfare standards is increased production cost, which is ultimately reflected in the cost of the finished product to the consumer. Not everyone can afford to pay the price of the ultimate best practice in farm animal welfare, so lower cost production systems are required. Of itself, that does not mean that animals are being treated badly, or that EU Regulation is ineffective.

Phillip Phagharty-Whetpance

I feel pain

Hope you're not my lawyer

Animals in labs are covered by ASPA 1986, updated 2012 via 2010/63/EU, already fully transcribed, and enjoy the strictest protections in the world – more than required by the EU and have been strictly protected since 1876. The government’s latest draft Bill is sloppy af, referring to the Oxford English Dictionary for definitions of words like ‘animal’ which have a different meaning in science. Why should this matter? Fruit flies, ants and coral are all technically animals and if Michael Gove thinks they are self-aware then he’s getting his information from Peppa Pig. The Animal Welfare Act makes humans responsible for any sentient animal in their control, even temporarily, and recognises the sentience of vertebrates in point 1 of its guidance, vertebrates being the only demonstrably sentient beings. Honestly, if you’re going to write a blog at least read the bloody legislation.

Anonymous

Typical left wing drivel post from KK.

Ciaran Goggins

Animals can feel pain. Did you know plod used a perjuring informer to sabotage Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty?

Phillip Phagharty-Whetpance

Why have I been removed?

Why can’t I have nice things?

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