May 20, 2021
The government of the United Kingdom (UK) has introduced a bill that formally recognizes animals as sentient beings. The UK has long been a groundbreaker regarding Animal Welfare, being the first nation to implement an animal welfare law in 1822 and enacting several subsequent laws. Currently, UK laws treat animals as property.
As described by Kristen Stilt in the 2016 Harvard Law magazine, “The law divides everything in the universe into just two categories, ‘persons’ and ‘property’. Legal persons have rights, property does not – so all ‘animal laws’ on the books are about protection and welfare, not about intrinsic individual rights.”
Recognizing animals are sentient beings and should be treated differently than property, but also are different than humans, has the potential to initiate a third area between property and persons. The bill also establishes an Animal Sentience Committee, which will help ensure animal sentience is considered in government policy and introduces a broad Action Plan for Animal Welfare. Among many other things, the Action Plan for Animal Welfare law will end live export of animals for slaughter and fattening.
Though proposed, the bill is not law and still needs to be voted on by both Houses of Parliament and receive Royal Assent from the Queen.
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