Wouldn’t it be nice of all governments were bound under law to consider the welfare of animals as sentient beings whenever legislators create new law or discuss changes which might have an impact on animal welfare?
Well, in the UK it will happen because a new Bill (a draft statute yet to be enacted but under discussion and debate) will bind the UK government to consider “the welfare of animals as sentient beings”. Once enacted it will become the Animal Welfare Act 2018
Also the new legislation will increase the maximum sentence for animal cruelty in England and Wales to five years.
I am told by the Times newspaper that 1,194 veterinarians in the UK signed an open letter to encourage the government to enshrine sentience into law and there were 155,000 Compassion supporters. Mr Gove, the current Environmental Secretary, agreed to deal with the request in new legislation.
Enshrining sentience into an umbrella law is essential in protecting animal welfare laws going forward. No law is cast in concrete. It can be eroded by future governments with a different agenda.
Existing laws governing England and Wales (we should not say “UK law” as Scotland and N. Ireland have devolved powers to make their own laws) protects animals but it is limited in scope. It excludes laboratory animals and wild species in the wild. An umbrella law will catch these blind spots.
Brexit brought this about because it was feared that Brexit trade deals with EU countries with lower animal welfare standards would erode protection in England and Wales concerning animals involved in agriculture and food production.
Enshrining sentience might increase food production costs. Without this legislation profit is more likely to trump animal welfare.
The UK government wants to enhance animal welfare after leaving the European Union.
“We are a nation of animal lovers so we will make Brexit work not just for citizens but for the animals we love and cherish too.”
Currently the Animal Welfare Act 2006 is the principle law protecting animals from abuse. It is a good statute.