Animal sentience and Brexit: Why recognising animals as sentient is crucial

In this blog, Helen Lambert discusses her views on the recognition of animal sentience in legislation.

I have spent years researching and promoting the science of animal sentience, and so the recent news from Government was a massive blow. The UK Government failed to vote for the animal sentience amendment from the Lisbon Treaty to be adopted into UK law after Brexit. The backlash from the general public and animal welfare organisations was incredible. I truly believe that the Government greatly underestimated us. In some ways it could be said that they have done animal sentience a favour. Now everyone knows what sentience means and why it is important. But let’s not take our eye of the ball. The Government have said that they will draft better legislation to protect animals, so we need to make sure that they do.

Let’s think positive

Animal sentience refers to the ability of animals to feel, and this means positive feelings as well as negative ones. We now recognise that good animal welfare should be about more than just freedom from negative states such as pain and fear. Good animal welfare is about ensuring that animals are feeling good. It means allowing animals to do things that they enjoy, things that make them feel happy and excited. Therefore, it is important that our legislation refers to animals as sentient beings. It is the fact that animals are sentient that means that they matter. By rejecting the amendment, we are stepping back 20 years in time. To a time when we were fighting for animal’s feelings to be recognised. We do not want to go back there.

The evidence is clear

The last 20 years has produced even more evidence for animal sentience. We cannot ignore the facts anymore. Animals are sentient. Fortunately, we do have reasonable animal welfare legislation in the UK, but it is the recognition of animals as sentient beings that is the backbone, and is something we simply cannot lose. Recognising animals as sentient ensures that we are recognising and protecting their ability to feel both positive and negative emotions. It means that we are recognising that animals need more than just good health, they need to be able to behave naturally, they need to be able to do things that they enjoy, they need access to appropriate social companions, and they deserve to live a life free of pain and suffering. More importantly, they deserve to live a good life.

Act now

I encourage everyone to write to your MP, bombard them with the evidence of animal sentience, tell them how they need to stand up for the voiceless and not step back in time. Meanwhile, keep the pressure on. Brexit is one big confusing mess to be sorted out, but we cannot let animals fall victim to this. Keep reminding your MP that we are waiting to see this new, stronger legislation for animals. Don’t let them slip it to the bottom of the pile. Stand up for animals. Be their voice.

Thank you.

Helen Lambert née Proctor
Animal Welfare Consultant