This week while debating the Brexit bill, Conservative MPs had voted not to transfer into UK law parts of EU legislation which recognise that animals have sentience and can feel pain and emotions. This would have come into effect once we leave the EU in 2019.
In contrast to this vote extensive scientific evidence shows that non-human animals do have feelings and emotions, some even stronger than ours. An example of this comes from Carl Safina, the author of Beyond Words, he talks about sightings of humpback whales helping seals being hunted by killer whales. There is a documented account of a humpback sweeping a seal on its back, out the water and away from the killer whales. This has only recently been recorded but could have been happening for thousands of years. This story alone is proof that non-human animals have more empathy than many humans do.
Green MP for Brighton Caroline Lucas stated while debating the issue in parliament:
“Like us, animals are aware of their surroundings; that they have the capacity to feel pain, hunger, heat and cold; and that they are aware of what is happening to them and of their interaction with other animals including humans.”
However, after politicians came under fire this week, Environment Secretary Michael Gove has announced that ‘sentience of animals will continue to be recognised and protections strengthened when we leave the EU.’ He said ‘voting against the amendment was not a vote against the idea that animals are sentient and feel pain – that is a misconception.’
Gove has stated that the UK is improving animal welfare measures without the help of the EU. For example he talks about how the UK will ‘consult of draft legislation to jail animal abusers for up to five years – more than almost every other European nation.’
It is great to see the issue of animal welfare debated in parliament again and brought to the attention of mainstream media. However, when the issue of animal welfare gets stripped back to what it is really about, sentient beings tortured for our gain, can it really be as simple as changing clauses in a law?