England’s Sentience Bill has reportedly passed its final stage and animals are set to be explicitly legislatively recognised as sentient. In 2015, New Zealand did the same thing when it explicitly recognised animals as sentient in its 2015 Amendment to the Animal Welfare Act 1999.
Shortly after New Zealand’s explicit legislative recognition of animals as sentient, I was attending a meeting in England and a senior English policy adviser, who knew I was from New Zealand, smilingly approached me during the tea break. He greeted me by saying ‘New Zealanders must be feeling rather annoyed about now, Ian’.
‘Why’s that I asked?
I subsequently learned that his quizzical look reflected his quick mental attempt to figure out if I was being humorous or if I really didn't understand.
‘New Zealand already has anti-cruelty law which recognises that animals can feel and experience suffering and consequently already recognises that they are sentient. So explicitly recognising animals as sentient is just giving New Zealanders what they’ve already got. Without changing the duty of care the Amendment is like giving them an empty Christmas Box – it’s got all the fanfare, glitter and fancy wrapping but there’s nothing inside’.
‘You know this, Ian’, he went on to say, ‘Nothing changes in practise if you don't change the duty of care’.
‘Nothing changes in practice if you don't change the duty of care’. His statement reveals the litmus test question for assessing how pragmatically effective the legislative recognition of animal sentience is going to be in using the law to shift people’s behaviours that have a direct effect on the daily life experience of animals:
* What’s changed about the duty of care with England’s imminent legislative recognition of an animal’s capacity to subjectively feel and experience (‘sentient’)?
Specifically, does the imminent law evolve and extend the duty of care to include responsibilities for the animal’s positive states - or does it simply perpetuate standards, policies and practices that continue to benchmark just the animal’s negative states (i.e. pain, distress, suffering)?
The policy adviser’s comments were part of what prompted the development of the Sentient Animal Law Foundation (www.sentientanimallaw.org
) which targets a law reform that puts an extended ‘modern’ duty of care in the Christmas Box.
That reform has been implemented by lawmakers elsewhere and is replicable with 3 words.
(This post is provided by Ian A. Robertson, Co-Founder of the Sentient Animal Law Foundation and Director of IAL)