WAV Comment: Often in animal welfare, there are not immediate solutions to concerning animal welfare problems. Tenacity (the quality or fact of being very determined; determination.) has to be something; and is something, which all of us in the rights / welfare movement need to have and show. To put it simply, if you give up, you lose.
UK animal people did not give up; in fact, their resolve strengthened. Why:
Despite the huge success in getting animal sentience recognised in EU law, the recognition of animal sentience in the UK took a big step backwards following the Brexit referendum in 2016.
The following year, Compassion in World Farming discovered that the UK Government’s European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which formally enacted Brexit, would not carry across provisions from EU Treaties – including Article 13 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU.
This meant that reference to animal sentience would disappear from UK law when the UK formally left the EU on 31st December 2020. Both the recognition of animals as having the capacity to have feelings, including pain and joy, and the requirement for governments to pay “full regard” to their welfare when formulating and implementing policy, would be lost from UK law. Read more about what Brexit meant for Animal Sentience in this news article.
Campaigning on animal sentience in the UK starts again
We (CIWF) had to start campaigning immediately to ensure that this cornerstone of animal welfare law was not lost when the UK left the EU. We mobilised supporters to lobby the Government, contacted Members of Parliament, and liaised with other NGOs to alert them to the threat to animal welfare. Unfortunately, it faced strong Government opposition and was narrowly defeated when it was put to the vote in Parliament.
And finally, on the 12th of December 2017, following the media furore over the vote in Parliament – and under pressure from a 155,000-strong Compassion petition, the UK Government announced a new Bill would be introduced. This was a momentous moment as the Bill would permanently incorporate the legal recognition of animal sentience into UK law post-Brexit.
2018: Campaign setback as Government delays sentience legislation
Despite the positive announcement from the Government at the end of 2017, the campaign to recognise that animals are sentient beings faced even more setbacks in the following years.
Firstly, Parliament’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee published a report which suggested the Bill should be redrafted. The Committee raised concerns that, as the Bill was worded, paying regard to animal sentience would lead to the slowing down or freezing of policymaking and result in widespread Judicial Reviews. Following that report, the UK Government announced in September 2018 that the legislation relating to animal sentience would be delayed.
2019: Over 100,000 calls for animal sentience recognition
In September 2019, our Senior Policy Manager, James West, handed in a 103,000-signature petition to Downing Street, alongside other members of the #BetterDealForAnimals coalition. The petition called on the UK Government to introduce legislation recognising animal sentience and require that full regard be given to animal welfare in UK Government policies.
2020: MPs debate animal sentience
As a result of the 2019 petition reaching over 100,000 signatures, MPs debated the issue in March 2020. Watch the highlights of the debate.
Then, following continued inaction from the Government, in September 2020 dedicated Compassion campaigners took action again.
Thousands of people urged their MPs to call on Ministers to introduce animal sentience legislation before 1st January 2021. This was the day after the UK would formally leave the EU, at which point EU laws recognising animal sentience at the time were due to run out.
2021: UK Government introduces Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill
As the clock struck 11pm on 31st December 2020, despite persistent campaigning, animals in the UK were, for the first time in almost a quarter-century, no longer recognised as sentient beings under the law.
Then, on 13th May, the efforts of compassionate people around the country finally worked in British animals’ favour. The UK Government announced it would introduce the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill as part of its ‘Action Plan for Animal Welfare’.
During the summer and autumn of 2021, the Bill progressed through the House of Lords, completing all its stages by December 2021.
Today – 7/4/22.
On Thursday 7th April, we achieved a momentous victory for animals.
The updated Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill was voted through by the House of Lords which means that animals are legally recognised as sentient beings once again.
Thank you to everyone who emailed politicians or signed petitions, donated in response to this campaign, shared posts on social media, and asked friends and family to take action.
It’s official. UK law will now recognise that animals can feel joy, pain, and fear once again..
Read about the highs and lows of sentience over several decades:
Animal Sentience: the highs and lows | Compassion in World Farming (ciwf.org.uk)
In the end, positive results always come to those who have the tenacity to fight and continue fighting. Never ever give up the fight(s) for your issues;