Who would have thought that one House of Commons amendment on animal sentience could have so dominated the news, and the pigeon holes and email boxes of MPs for two whole weeks? Actually, I would – and the government probably should have too.
The 2017 general election and the Conservative’s decision to open the door once again to fox hunting should really have shown them how seriously the British public takes issues of animal protection.
This may be controversial, but I don’t think for one moment that most of the government MPs who voted against Caroline Lucas’s amendment to take the Lisbon Treaty Article 13 recognition of animal sentience into the EU (Withdrawal) Bill believe that animals do not have emotions, do not feel pain or are incapable of suffering. Some Conservative MPs have a long and proud history of supporting our work at Cruelty Free International to end experiments on animals. Their opposition vote was far more to do with Brexit than it was with animals.
That said, there are now two pressing questions that the government needs to address. Firstly, it is essential that we move away from the implicit recognition of animal sentience in UK law to specific acknowledgement in a way that is meaningful and has teeth. The key issue here is not necessarily sentience itself. Rather it is explicit acceptance of animal sentience as a basis for obliging lawmakers to pay full regard to animal protection in formulating and implementing policies and laws. The fact that animals have emotions and can feel pain and suffering should be at the heart of policymaking around life sciences, education, production and consumption, agriculture, fisheries, transport and every other area that touches on the lives of animals.
Secretary of State Michael Gove appeared to agree with this when he gave the green light in the Commons on 20th July this year to the inclusion of Article 13 in UK law. I hope we see an amendment to that end from government to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill as a matter of urgency. I also urge the government to ensure that all animals are included within the scope of such an amendment, including animals in laboratories whose immense pain and suffering is all too often ignored.
Secondly, the government has much ground to make up with the people of this country. How telling it was that so many truly believed that we have a government that thinks that animals do not count.
At Cruelty Free International, we are campaigning for an end to cosmetics animal testing once and for all everywhere in the world through a UN agreement. We need a UN member country to put this call on the table of the United Nations General Assembly. As the country that, back in 1997, was first to bring this cruel and unnecessary practice to an end, we think that the UK should be the country that rallies to take global action: and so do the 95 members of parliament who have, to date, signed an Early Day Motion. After the sentience debacle, what better way to show the world that the UK really does value the importance of animal protection.