It is long overdue for UK law to embody the reality of animal sentience. The UK must go much further to fully respect all animals. We must transition away from using animals.
We are in denial about the unnecessary suffering daily inflicted in and by the UK. Yet, we all agree it is wrong to cause unnecessary harm or suffering. This ethical stance has influenced one in four people in the UK to eat fewer animal products over the past year. We now need collective action supported by Government, to help us all put our values about avoiding harm to animals, fully into practice.
Animal sentiency matters to us. We know that, like us, animals are mortal, feel pleasure, can suffer, communicate and have social, family and personal lives. We have recognised animal sentiency for thousands of years, as recorded in many civil, religious and spiritual animal welfare codes. Yet, we systematically continue daily activities which cause animals to suffer.
We cannot always know which animals are sapient (able to remember, think and reason), or sentient (perceive and feel the world). By the Precautionary Principle, “When human activities may lead to morally unacceptable harm that is scientifically plausible but uncertain, actions shall be taken to avoid or diminish that harm.”
So, ethically, we should behave as if all animals are sentient. This means, every animal should live freely in suitable habitats, expressing their natural behaviours, with the minimum necessary intervention. For selectively bred animals, this may require suitable sanctuary environments. Jay Wilde and Katja Wilde are examples of British farmers who have enabled all the cattle whom they formerly farmed, to move into sanctuary environments.
The Animal Sentience Bill, and the Government’s Action Plan for Animal Welfare, will reduce some forms of animal suffering. But it is clear that the Government also plans to allow many forms of systematic animal suffering to continue.
We will continue to suffer harmful consequences until we dismantle our unethical system. Current global crises – from climate change, biodiversity destruction, mass deaths of free-living animals and other unfolding environmental disasters, to human health disasters such as the current Covid-19 pandemic, wide-spread mental and physical health crises and growing antibiotic resistance – are inextricably linked to our failures to respect animals.
Therefore, we must transition away from all uses of animals for human purposes. This is what it means to be vegan. We call upon Government to work with vegans in all communities to rapidly bring forward this ethical transformation.