Consultation on draft animal sentience bill - suggested answers

The deadline for responses to the government's consultation on animal sentience is this Wednesday (31 January). For those unsure how to respond to their Draft Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) Bill 2017 , here are suggested answers from the Animal Welfare Party (AWP) and PETA UK

Questions 1–4:

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Question 5: Do you consider that the term ‘sentience’ should be defined explicitly?

AWP: Yes

PETA: Yes

Question 6: If you answered ‘yes’, what definition should we use?

AWP: Sentience is the ability to perceive one's environment, and feel and experience sensations such as pain, suffering, pleasure and comfort.(a) It is a philosophical (and increasingly legal) concept that is inherently linked to the scientific concept, consciousness: sentience requires the existence of external and internal sensors to detect stimuli, but also assumes the mental capacity to consciously or subjectively experience those perceptions and feelings.(b)

We call for an explicit recognition of the sentience of all vertebrate animals, all cephalopod molluscs and all decapod crustaceans and recognise that evidence of the likely sentience of additional animals is expected in the future. When this occurs, such animals should also become protected by this Act.

  1. Judy Pearsall, Sentient (Oxford Dictionaries) <http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/sentient> (accessed 8 February 2015); ed Jacky Turner and Joyce D’Silva, Animals, Ethics and Trade, The Challenge for Animal Sentience (Earthscan, London, 2006).
  2. James Kirkwood, ‘The Distribution of the Capacity for Sentience in the Animal Kingdom’, in ed Jacky Turner and Joyce D’Silva, Animals, Ethics and Trade, The Challenge for Animal Sentience (Earthscan, London, 2006) at 12-13.

Supporting documents:

  • Richman A (2014). Sentience - The Test for Moral Concern and Legal Status. AAPLJ. 10. 39-45.
  • Animal Sentience and the Precautionary Principle, Jonathan Birch.

PETA: The term “sentience” can be applied to any non-human organism who has the capacity to feel or perceive things, including but not limited to awareness of one’s surroundings, relationships with others, and both physical and emotional sensations such as pain, fear, and distress.

Question 7: Do you consider that the term ‘animal’ should be defined explicitly?

AWP: Yes

PETA: Yes

Question 8: If you answered ‘yes’, what definition should we use?

AWP: Animal: Any mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian, fish, insect or other multi-cellular organism that is not a plant or fungi.

We would like to draw particular attention to the need for decapod crustaceans to be included under the definition of ‘animal’.

Supporting documents:

  • WAN Model Animal Welfare Act.
  • Briefing on Crustacean Sentience and Welfare, Crustacean Compassion 2018.

PETA: For the purpose of this bill, “animal” should be defined as all non-human vertebrate or invertebrate species. To avoid doubt, this definition should at the very least incorporate all mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, cephalopods, and decapod crustaceans and should be defined so as to allow additional invertebrate groups to be included based on appropriate scientific evidence.

Notably, in response to a request from the European Commission related to “Aspects of the biology and welfare of animals used for experimental and other scientific purposes”, the Scientific Panel on Animal Health and Welfare opined that a wide range of invertebrates demonstrate a capacity to experience pain and suffering and thus should be considered sentient beings. Likewise, the panel concluded that many foetal forms of animals are considered to have the capacity to feel and to suffer and should also be protected. Therefore, in the interest of prudence, the precautionary principle should be adopted and the term “animal” should include both invertebrates and foetal forms.

Question 9: Do you consider that the term ‘welfare needs of animals’ should be defined explicitly in the clause?

AWP: Yes

PETA: Yes

Question 10: If you answered ‘yes’, what definition should be used, and should the list of needs in the Animal Welfare Act 2006 be changed?

AWP: The current list of needs in the Animal Welfare Act 2006 should be developed to refer to the 'Five Provisions' of 1. Good nutrition, 2. Good environment, 3. Good health, 4. Appropriate behaviour 5. Positive mental experiences

These provisions are elaborated upon below and in the uploaded file - 'Updating Animal Welfare Thinking: Moving beyond the “Five Freedoms” towards “A Life Worth Living”' David J. Mellor 2016.

  1. Good nutrition: Provide fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour.
    Minimise thirst and hunger and enable eating to be a pleasurable experience.
  2. Good environment: Provide shade/shelter or suitable housing, good air quality and comfortable resting areas.
    Minimise discomfort and exposure and promote thermal, physical and other comforts.
  3. Good health: Prevent or rapidly diagnose and treat disease and injury, and foster good muscle tone, posture and cardiorespiratory function.
    Minimise breathlessness, nausea, pain and other aversive experiences and promote the pleasures of robustness, vigour, strength and well coordinated physical activity.
  4. Appropriate behaviour: Provide sufficient space, proper facilities, congenial company and appropriately varied conditions.
    Minimise threats and unpleasant restrictions on behaviour and promote engagement in rewarding activities.
  5. Positive mental experiences: Provide safe, congenial and species-appropriate opportunities to have pleasurable experiences.
    Promote various forms of comfort, pleasure, interest, confidence and a sense of control.

Supporting document:

  • 'Updating Animal Welfare Thinking: Moving beyond the “Five Freedoms” towards “A Life Worth Living”' David J. Mellor 2016.

PETA: The list of needs in Section 9(2) of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 should serve as a starting point to bring animal-welfare legislation in line with public opinion and contemporary scientific understanding of sentience. For example, the need for animals to be explicitly protected from emotional and physical pain, suffering, injury and disease should be incorporated into the definition. The legislation should also recognise the desire of animals to hold personhood, bodily liberty, and self-determination in light of scientific consensus that these traits exist in species including but not limited to great apes, grey parrots, elephants, dolphins, and cetaceans.

Question 11: Do you agree that the draft Bill should apply to all policy areas?

AWP: Yes

PETA: Yes

Question 12: If you answered ‘no’, why do you not agree with this?

PETA: N/A

Question 13: Do you agree that the draft Bill should adopt the term ‘should have regard’?

AWP: No

PETA: No

Question 14: If you answered ‘no’, how do you think the level of regard should be specified?

AWP: The text must specify that Ministers must pay 'full regard' to the welfare needs of animals as sentient beings in formulating and implementing government policy e.g. “Ministers of the Crown must pay full regard to the welfare needs of animals as sentient beings in formulating and implementing government policy.”

This is important because it provides a better indication of the weight that should be given to animals’ welfare requirements when formulating policy. Simply taking account of animals’ welfare requirements and balancing them against other interests will not suffice.

PETA: The phrase “must give full regard” better reflects the mandatory requirement which should be placed on policymakers when considering animal sentience in decisionmaking.

Question 15: Do you have any views or comments on the consequences of this new duty?

PETA: The duty as it stands in the draft bill requires Ministers of the Crown solely to take animal sentience into account during the decisionmaking process. This requirement should apply to all public policymakers – including but not limited to ministers, local authorities, and devolved legislatures.

To guarantee that the requirement to recognise sentience is being adhered to correctly, a mechanism must be put in place to ensure the government’s full and consistent execution of this duty.

Question 16: Do you have any views about whether a different formulation or approach might achieve the policy objectives? Views would also be welcome on how the approaches adopted in other countries might apply here?

PETA: The Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) Bill should be used as the backbone to introduce other forward-thinking animal-protection measures to ensure that the United Kingdom is at the forefront of global animal welfare.

Question 17: Do you agree with the new maximum sentence?

AWP: No

PETA: Yes

Question 18: If you answered ‘no’, can you explain why you do not agree with the new maximum sentence?

AWP: AWP considers five years' imprisonment insufficient as a maximum penalty for some of the worst cases of animal abuse. The UK is a country with a proud history of thought leadership in animal welfare and AWP welcomes the Written Ministerial Statement of 12th December 2017 which speaks of the government's ambition “to set a global gold standard for animal welfare”.

This, AWP asserts, can only be achieved by meeting or exceeding the standard already set by the US states of Louisiana, Alabama, Connecticut and Massachusetts where the maximum custodial sentence for animal cruelty is ten years'.

It is also important to note that in the Australian state of Queensland and the US state of New Hampshire the maximum custodial sentence for animal cruelty is seven years' imprisonment.

Therefore, AWP asserts that the maximum sentence for the specified animal welfare offences should be ten years' imprisonment. This, we believe, would more adequately reflect the seriousness of the offences and act as a more meaningful deterrent to the worst cases of animal abuse.

Supporting document:

  • Battersea Dogs and Cats Home Cruelty Report 2017.

PETA: The increase in the maximum sentence is welcomed, however, it should not be applicable only for “specified animal offences” in which egregious acts of violence and sadism are performed. Non-specified acts, such as starvation and conscious failure to provide necessary veterinary care, are just as deserving of the new maximum penalty. In strengthening the sentences for animal offences, the government should take into account expert opinion on sentencing guidelines.

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