Gove clarifies: Sentience of animals will continue to be recognised after Brexit
Environment Secretary Michael Gove has been forced to clarify the Government’s position on animal sentience, following last week’s vote against New Clause 30 of the EU Withdrawal Bill, which included the specific mention.
Since the vote, a number of campaign groups and industry representatives, including the British Veterinary Association, have called on the Government to maintain current standards of animal health and welfare.
Gove clarified that the suggestion that last week’s vote signalled a weakening in the protection of animals was wrong and added: “Voting against the amendment was not a vote against the idea that animals are sentient and feel pain – that is a misconception.”
He explained in a Written Ministerial Statement: “Ministers explained on the floor of the house that this Government’s policies on animal welfare are driven by our recognition that animals are indeed sentient beings and we are acting energetically to reduce the risk of harm to animals – whether on farms or in the wild.
“The vote against New Clause 30 was the rejection of a faulty amendment, which would not have achieved its stated aims of providing appropriate protection for animals.”
Gove also highlighted that the Government is proposing primary legislation “to increase maximum sentences for animal cruelty from six months to five years, and the creation of a new statutory body to uphold environmental standards”.
Presenting an example of the Government’s commitment to “improve animal welfare standards without EU input”, he noted Defra’s recent legislation to make CCTV mandatory in all slaughterhouses.
Returning to the current EU instrument, Article 13, he stated that it “has not delivered the progress we want to see”, claiming that it “does not have direct effect in law – in practice its effect is very unclear and it has failed to prevent practices across the EU which are cruel and painful to animals”.
The British Veterinary Association said it was “encouraged by Michael Gove’s statement”, but senior vice president, Gudrun Ravetz, noted: “We need clarity on how legislation will capture the substantive obligation that Article 13 imposes on the EU and national Governments to pay full regard to animal welfare in formulating and implementing policy in the specified areas.
“Under the UK’s Animal Welfare Acts, accountability for the treatment of an animal, quite rightly, focuses on the owner or those who are responsible for that animal’s condition, but not on the state. Not including this provision would be a step backwards once we leave the EU.”