Tag Archives: house of commons

A question of Animal Sentience?

This issue has been a subject of interest for us, other Parliamentarians and particularly the British Veterinary Association (BVA) for some time but rejection of the Amendment (New Clause 30) to the Withdrawal Bill in the House of Commons on 15th November has heightened interest. At the Veterinary Policy Research Foundation we have compiled an Animal Sentience Briefing which summarises this fast moving situation.

The Withdrawal Bill seeks to transpose EU regulations into UK law but Article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty  will not automatically become UK law as it is not an EU regulation.  Article 13 has been regarded as important by animal welfare organisations[1] as it puts an onus on EU member states, in formulating policies, to pay full regard to animal welfare requirements since animals are sentient beings. The amendment (New Clause 30) moved by Caroline Lucas MP, proposed that the principle with respect to animal sentience expressed in Article 13 should be included in the Withdrawal Bill. The amendment was rejected with a Government majority of 18.

Although much media coverage focused on this as a disagreement about whether animals were sentient or not, it has since been clarified by the Secretary of State for Defra[2], Michael Gove, that the amendment was voted down as a ‘poorly drafted and inappropriate way’ of delivering the aims of Article 13. Moreover, it is legally arguable that the Animal Welfare Act already implicitly recognises that animals are sentient.

The existing legislation within the Animal Welfare Act places the onus of responsibility for the care of animals on the keepers of those animals. Article 13 imposes duties on the state. This is the real and critical aspect of this debate.

Before and after the 15th November vote (see below) Government ministers have given assurances that they are exploring how the sentience of animals can be best enshrined in UK law.

You may rest assured that the VPRF and a number of MPs particularly associated with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Animal Welfare (APGAW) and outwith Parliament, the BVA are actively working to hold the government to that commitment.

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You will see that in a debate in the House of Lords on Brexit: Agriculture and Brexit: Farm Animal Welfare on 17th October 2017 I asked within my speech a specific question with regard to sentience:

“…with regard to the withdrawal Bill and animal welfare, while the Secretary of State has given some assurances about the important legal principles set out in the EU treaties, can the Minister explain, in writing if necessary, which of the principles of animal sentience and environmental laws will be recognised as general principles under the terms of the withdrawal Bill? Importantly, can he confirm whether they will apply to future government decision-making and judgments in court?” Lord Trees full spoken contribution can be found at: https://goo.gl/fhg4Fd

 

Ministerial response (Lord Gardiner) to Lord Trees question, by letter to Lord Teverson 3/11/17:

“Lord Trees asked which of the principles of animal sentience and environmental laws will be recognised as general principles under the terms of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, and whether they would apply to future government decision-making and judgements in court. The EU (Withdrawal) Bill will convert the existing body of direct EU animal welfare and environmental laws to become UK laws. It will make sure that the same protections are in place in the UK and laws still function effectively after the UK leaves the EU.

The Withdrawal Bill will preserve environmental principles where they are included in existing EU legislation and case law. We recognise the importance of these issues and will listen carefully to the views of Parliament as the Bill progresses. Article 13 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) created a qualified obligation on the EU and EU Member States “to have full regard [to] the welfare of animals as they are sentient being” when formulating and implementing certain EU laws. Existing domestic law such as the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and the various Welfare Codes made under it already protect animals where there is clear scientific evidence that they are capable of experiencing pain and suffering. Its scope is capable of being extended where the science justifies.

We are exploring how the ‘animal sentience’ principle of Article 13 can continue to be reflected in the UK when we leave the EU.”

 

In Parliament on 23rd November 2017, the Secretary of State Michael Gove delivered a Written Ministerial Statement in the Commons which you will find referred to in the briefing document and below [2].

 

Acknowledgement: we are very grateful to Dr. Michael Radford, University of Aberdeen for his expert legal interpretation of this issue.

[1] Compassion in World Farming

https://assets.ciwf.org/media/7431218/note-on-the-absence-of-article-13-tfeu-from-repeal-bill-002.pdf

[2] Written Ministerial Statement, Defra, 23.11.17

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/environment-secretary-confirms-sentience-of-animals-will-continue-to-be-recognised-and-protections-strengthened-when-we-leave-the-eu

 

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BVA AWF Discussion Forum 2015

The Veterinary Policy Research Foundation (VPRF) took part in the popular and enjoyable BVA Animal Welfare Foundation Discussion Forum once again this year.

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Lord Trees and Chris Lawrence at the BVA AWF reception

The topics covered, including antimicrobial resistance, welfare at slaughter, population control and indiscriminate breeding, and the use of advanced veterinary practice. We took particular interest in Professor Steve Wotton’s talk on the latest research on the stunning of animals before slaughter and the nuances of appropriately stunning poultry to both effectively stun the birds regardless of their size and yet not induce cardiac arrest so that the stun is demonstrably irreversible – a necessity for Halal consumers.

There was a great deal of discussion and debate around the enforcement, or lack of, animal welfare law with particular reference to import/export and indiscriminate breeding. The general impression given by the veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses in attendance was one of frustration that these oft discussed issues are still not being effectively addressed and impotence that when they are faced with a potential animal welfare issue there is no clear path to follow.

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Parliamentary Veterinary Intern and guests at the 2015 BVA AWF Reception.

The 2015 Discussion Forum concluded with a reception on the House of Commons terrace hosted by Neil Parish MP.

Westminster Hall debates

Tuesday 4th November saw two interesting debates in Westminster Hall. In the morning Neil Parish MP moved a debate on Animal Slaughter (Religious Methods), and in the afternoon Chris Williamson MP moved a debate on Badger Culls (Assessment). I will focus on the animal slaughter side of things in this post.

Animal Slaughter (Religious Methods)

The animal slaughter debate was called following the publication of the APPG for Beef and Lamb’s inquiry into the welfare of animals slaughtered in accordance with religious rites. This report identified several areas in need of further research. During the course of the debate a number of matters were discussed, including the role of exporters subject to various conditions on slaughter, the use of CCTV in slaughterhouses, the effect of animal stress on meat quality, the labelling of meat (stunned vs non-stunned) and a call to accurately record all mis-stuns and mis-cuts. A lot of well-trodden ground was once again re-covered during this debate and ultimately it boils down to the question: Does the right to freedom of religious expression outweigh animal welfare considerations?

Government response

During his response, George Eustice MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said:

“Our position is that we would prefer that all animals are stunned before slaughter, but we recognise and respect the needs of religious communities, so we have always maintained this limited exemption, which is to be used only for meat produced for Jewish and Muslim communities. Last year, the Prime Minister made it very clear in a speech that the Government have no intention of abolishing religious slaughter in this country. However, it is equally important to note that none of the derogations that we have in place, which are set out through the Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995, exempt anyone from the requirements of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which requires all abattoirs to avoid causing an animal avoidable pain.”

“It is not that we believe that there is no difference between the two types of slaughter, nor that we believe shechita is a more welfare-friendly method of slaughter, but because we respect the rights of religious communities. That has been the long-standing position of every UK Government, going back some 100 years.”

HOC Hansard, 4th Nov 2014, Column 168WH.

Labelling

The Minister’s round up also included (another) new date for the publication of the European Commission report on labelling – now expected to conclude in December 2014.

Mis-stunning and mis-cutting

He briefly covered the issue of mis-stunning and -cutting. Historically, the Food Standards Agency only reported incidents observed by official veterinarians in the slaughterhouse. Following review, the FSA intends to monitor and record all incidents. He reiterated the point that a mis-stunning event does not always mean the welfare outcome for a particular animal will be dire as a second, back-up stun can be applied within seconds.

CCTV in slaughterhouses

Last, but not least, the subject of CCTV in slaughterhouses is an issue. The Minister clarified that the Farm Animal Welfare Committee is reviewing it as an option. The issue remains as to exactly who would monitor the CCTV footage were it made compulsory in slaughterhouses. Several supermarkets already demand that CCTV is taken in their slaughterhouses as a matter of course – perhaps the success/failure of this intervention could be investigated.

Badger Culls (Assessment)