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Animal sentiment: conservatives would be crazy to vote against
The animal welfare bill (sensitivity) is a commitment from the 2019 Conservative Party manifesto and is at the “ heart ” of the government’s action plan for animal welfare.
The bill establishes an Animal Sensitivity Committee (ASC), which is empowered to report on whether the government ‘is having, or has had, all due consideration of the ways in which the policy could have an adverse effect on the welfare of animals as sentient beings.
Despite this, the animal sensitivity bill has sparked significant debate in the Lords. The Times reported that a small group of conservative gentlemen and party donors have written to the prime minister expressing reservations about the bill. The petitioners are concerned that the bill could block infrastructure projects and be “hijacked” by activists.
The sensitivity bill is intended to replace the loss of recognition of sensitivity and the duty of EU member states to “pay full attention” to animal welfare requirements in policy formulation and implementation.
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The EU conscience policy was included in Article 13 of Title II of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). Therefore, as a primary right of the Union, it was not included in the EU Withdrawal Law.
Sensitivity refers to the ability to have awareness, feelings, and emotions. Sensitive animals can experience pleasure and pain. Like us humans, sentient animals have lives that can go right or wrong.
Sensitivity is a complex concept and is also related to different levels of consciousness and cognitive abilities. But the important point is that because sensitive animals can experience pleasure and can suffer, government policies can have a huge impact on their well-being.
What kinds of sensitive animals could the bill help? Well, in the UK we raise and slaughter over a billion farm animals every year. More than 95% of these are broilers. It is estimated that we consume between four and five billion marine animals a year. Many of these will be sensitive, and millions of crabs, lobsters, crustaceans and squid are effectively invisible in UK law.
We perform three to four experimental procedures on laboratory animals each year. We have ten million dogs, ten million cats, and about a million equines. I suspect that the number of sensitive wildlife affected by government policy will be in the millions, if not billions, annually.
What kinds of issues could the animal sensitivity committee report on? PersonallyI would like to see the committee’s agenda driven by the magnitude of the impact on sensitive animals from government policy. The magnitude of the impact can be assessed by the severity of the impact (assuming it is negative), as well as by the duration of the impact and the number of sensitive animals that are affected.
The committee should also focus on the welfare impacts of government policy that could be more easily mitigated. I suspect that there should be important fruits at hand, so that the committee can facilitate streamlining the consideration of animal welfare impacts in policy making, with substantial and uncontroversial gains for animal welfare.
Consider some examples. Lameness in chickens is a huge welfare problem. We consume more than a billion chickens each year. But genetic selection for rapid growth means that many suffer from a painful limp during the last two weeks of their short six weeks of life.
Professor John Webster, a pioneer in animal welfare, wrote that poultry meat is “in both magnitude and severity the most severe and systematic example of man’s inhumanity to another sentient animal.” Research conducted by the Rural College of Scotland, found that a third of fast-growing chickens suffer from lameness and high mortality.
The figures translate into suffering in around 330 million sensitive birds. Government policy could promote commercially viable chickens with lower growth rates. Public procurement for higher welfare chicken for the NHS, schools and the military would provide an immediate boost to the welfare of millions of sensitive birds each year.
Government policy on the welfare of fish and other forms of marine life has great potential to improve the lives of billions of sensitive animals each year. The current priority is to ensure that cephalopods (octopus and squid) and decapod crustaceans (crabs and lobsters) are included in the scope of the bill, based on good scientific evidence of sensitivity.
The government and society have neglected fish welfare, even in animal welfare research. Despite the evidence of sensitivity in decapods and crustaceans, they are largely outside the scope of animal welfare laws. This is so despite the fact that UK society consumes between four and five billion marine animals each year.
Given the current widespread suffering, lack of regulation and enforcement in fish and other marine animals, there will be significant welfare gains that the animal sensitivity committee can promote.
The list could go on. But I want to demonstrate how important the need for the conscience bill is, illustrating how current government policy excludes consideration of impacts on animal welfare. Direct government spending on animal welfare is miniscule, less than a penny per sensitive animal. Furthermore, after the financial crisis of 2007, DEFRA’s budget was cut year after year.
The department, including its animal welfare team, was decimated and officials reported in interviews that they were unable to do their job properly due to lack of resources.
Consider the Government Green Book, which is the ‘Central Government Guide on Valuation and Evaluation’ of Policy Options. In the 152 pages of the central government guide, there is not a single reference to ‘animal’, much less ‘animal welfare’ or ‘sensitive animal’. The same goes for Treasury Spending Review 2020. Not a single reference to animal sensitivity or welfare.
With some knowledge of how the UK government accounts for the interests of sentient species, reading articles such as those written by Viscount Lord Matt Ridley in the Times it’s extraordinary. Ridley claims that the conscience bill is a kind of gesture policy related to media attention in 2017.
Above, I have tried to paint a picture of the far-reaching impacts of government policy on sensitive animals, as well as how government policymaking excludes their interests (the reasons for this are beyond the scope of this short article). When these points are appreciated, the claim that sensitive legislation is unnecessary is incredible.
The sensitivity bill and the animal sensitivity committee have the potential to improve the lives of billions of sensitive creatures. The government must not be unduly influenced by party donors and the landed gentry.
Similarly, parliament must not be fooled by clever sophistry that masks a hollow libertarian ideology that fails to recognize the duties of an enlightened government based on modern science in a civilized nation that involves the recognition of sensitivity.
The Conservative Party was chosen on the basis of a manifesto that included a commitment to “introduce new laws on animal sensitivity.” The British public (rightly so) has a high level of concern about sensitivity, evidenced by the fact that animal welfare issues are consistently DEFRA’s largest post office bag.
The conscience bill has strong support from organizations such as the British Veterinary Association (BVA), the RSPCA and the UK Animal Law Center. The Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation lobbies its parliamentarians and colleagues to support the bill.
Such broad support from organizations that exist to protect and promote animal welfare would seem unlikely if the conscience bill represented some kind of gesture policy.
Strong conscience legislation is essential for the UK to remain a world leader in animal welfare. At the electoral level, the conscience bill is an open goal for the Conservative Party to improve its position on animal welfare. Sensitive animals would vote with their legs, fins, and wings for added protection against the bill. The political animals of the parliamentary Conservative Party would be crazy to vote against it.