It might seem laughable to suggest that a dog, a pig or a hedgehog has as little thought or emotion as a packet of cornflakes or a tin of baked beans. But animals have only been recognised as sentient beings in the EU since the Treaty of Lisbon in 2009.
As we prepare to leave Europe in under two years time, our basic recognition that animals deserve far greater protection than household objects is under threat. We must make sure that legislation which recognises animal sentience is carried over into UK law.
It’s so important that we continue to recognise animals as beings who have the capacity to suffer, and feel pain, pleasure and joy. Not just because of the immense influence that such acknowledgement has had on the development of animal welfare standards so far – but also because of the future actions for which we’ll need its support.
It must be remembered that everything we do to animals affects the way they feel – it matters to them, and so it should matter to us.
A ban on stalls for pregnant pigs
Sow stalls have been banned across the EU’s member countries since 2013. Before they became illegal, pregnant pigs would be confined in small individual stalls for the majority of their lives, with no room to turn around.
Acknowledging animal sentience means recognising that a pig confined in a stall really does suffer, mentally as well as physically. They must now spend their pregnancy in group housing or outdoors, giving them the freedom to move, and allowing social contact.
Although there are further improvements that could be made for sows, this is a significant improvement on keeping them in an individual stall for months on end. It’s so important that we can continue to recognise animal suffering in our legislation, so that we can keep campaigning for and improving the standards of welfare for farmed animals.
A ban on the sale of cosmetics that have been tested on animals
It’s no longer legal for the UK or other EU countries to test on animals for cosmetics. The legal recognition of animals as sentient beings capable of suffering, means that their use in the non-essential development of a new brand of mascara, or a more bubbly variety of body wash is no longer acceptable.
The import and sale of cosmetics that have been newly tested on animals has also been banned. This means that if a new type of hair gel, nail varnish, perfume or other cosmetic has been tested on animals anywhere in the world, it can no longer be sold in the EU.
Not only has this changed the way that cosmetics are sold in the UK and other member countries – but it also put pressure on companies around the world to find alternative ways to test their cosmetic products, or risk losing a large market place.
Acknowledging that animals have the capacity to think, feel and suffer is an important step in changing the way animals are treated by society. If we want to see continued improvements in animal welfare, it’s vital that animal sentience is recognised legally.
A ban on the sale of seal products
Commercial seal hunts are notoriously cruel. The slaughter is often ineffective and inhumane, and occurs in an uncontrolled and unpredictable environment. Seals are killed at a very young age, with methods that cause pain and suffering, and using tools like spiked wooden clubs or metal bats.
In 2009, the EU voted to ban the sale of seal products from commercial hunts in all of its member countries. This move drastically cut back on the world market for seal products. It was a big step for animal welfare, and one that couldn’t have been achieved if we didn’t take note of the fact that seals can suffer.
Help us continue to protect animals as sentient beings
The EU’s work to improve the welfare of all animals isn’t done yet, and neither is ours. As we continue to campaign for an end to the live export of farm animals, puppy farms, the use of wild animals in circuses and many other issues– we do so on the foundation that animals are feeling beings, not insensible objects who are there simply for our use.
In the coming weeks politicians will be debating the EU Withdrawal Bill. We must make sure that the recognition that animals are thinking, feeling beings is not left out of these proposals.
Please join us and write to your local MP, asking them to support the continued recognition of animals as sentient beings.