Theresa May jumps in to halt rows on animal sentience vote

The prime minister has attempted to alleviate tensions surrounding the UK Government’s position on animal sentience, following the Commons vote last week.
calendar icon 23 November 2017
clock icon 4 minute read

Last week saw the Government facing criticism from animal health and welfare bodies across the UK, as it was understood that a new clause on animal sentience, submitted by Green MEP Caroline Lucas, was rejected by a majority of 18 for the Government. Caroline Lucas submitted an amendment which sought to bring the EU Protocol on animal sentience into UK law post-Brexit. The amendment comes from Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which states:

"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."

Official Journal of the European Union C 115, 09.05.2008

Justice Minister Dominic Raab is reported to have said that the Government supported the principle behind the proposed clause but ‘cannot accept it’ as the reference to animals as sentient beings is already recognised as a matter of domestic law, primarily in the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

The Justice Minister went on to explain:

We have made it clear that we intend to retain our existing standards of animal welfare once we have left the EU and, indeed, to enhance them. The vehicle of this legislation will convert the existing body of EU animal welfare law into UK law. It will make sure that the same protections are in place in the UK and that laws still function effectively after the UK leaves the EU.

In this country—we should be proud to say this—we have some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world, and we intend to remain a world leader in the future. Leaving the EU will not prevent us from further maintaining such standards; in fact, it will free us in some regards to develop our own gold-standard protections on animal welfare.

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) and Compassion in World Farming were one of a number of animal health sector bodies that were quick to point out the implications the vote could have on animal welfare in the UK. To read the statement from Gudrun Ravetz, senior vice president, click here.

During a Prime Minister’s Questions session, Theresa May told MPs that the UK Government would continue to ‘recognise and respect the fact that animals are sentient beings and should be treated accordingly’:

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 provides protection for all animals capable of experiencing pain or suffering which are under the control of man. But I reaffirm that we will be ensuring that we maintain and enhance our animal welfare standards when we leave the EU.

Emily Houghton

Editor, The Pig Site

Emily Houghton is a Zoology graduate from Cardiff University and was the editor of The Pig Site from October 2017 to May 2020. Emily has worked in livestock husbandry, and has written, conducted and assisted with research projects regarding the synthesis of welfare and productivity of free-range food species.

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