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Animals to be considered sentient beings by new UK laws

The government now formally recognises animals as sentient beings. New welfare measures will be introduced to halt most live animal exports and ban the import of hunting trophies.

The UK was the first nation in the world to pass animal welfare laws, making it illegal to cause unnecessary suffering to any animal.

After Brexit, campaigners requested for animals to be formally recognised as sentient beings, since they are no longer protected by EU regulations. Sentient beings are creatures who experience feelings and sensations, both negative and positive – as humans do.

The new bill means that activities which cause unnecessary harm or trauma for animals will be against the law. It protects farm animals and pets in the UK, but also extends to animals abroad by banning imports on illegal poaching products such as ivory and shark fins.

All vertebrates on land and sea are as categorised as sentient beings by the new laws. This includes fish, which is interesting because of the common myth that fish don’t feel anything, which has been debunked by experiments like the one in the video below.

Recognising that animals can experience fear, anxiety, and other emotions will carve out a clearer path for clamping down on illegal activity that pertains to animals.

This is especially relevant today as pet theft has increased across the nation as the demand for puppies increased during lockdowns. Special government teams have already been assigned to tackle this rise in activity, as it is distressing for both the animals and pet owners.

Sentience recognition will also provide room for further discussions about the ethics of using shock-collars used for training animals, how farm crates and cages can be improved to provide better animal wellbeing, and reducing the use of glue traps for controlling pests.

Now, some MPs are calling for the bill to include invertebrates such as lobsters and octopuses. Both of these animals display high levels of intelligence and understanding, yet they have not been categorised as sentient due to the nature of their anatomy.

They collect and process information in a different way than humans, using the outside parts of their body instead of their brain, for example, in the tentacles, or using antennae.

Among scientists, these creatures are regarded as highly intelligent with the capability of experiencing joy, pain, fear, and suffering.

This has been highlighted to the public through undersea nature documentaries, specifically My Octopus Teacher, which tells the fascinating story of the relationship between a diver and an octopus over the course of a year.

The acceptance of the animal sentience bill is a fantastic indication that humans as a whole are beginning to fully realise our complex connection with nature.

If octopuses are to be included, it will be a symbol of open mindedness that animals don’t need to be wired the same way as humans to be inherently similar to us.

The move is an important one for wildlife conservation, protecting natural environments, and for respecting other species in the natural world – all of which are now more important than ever.


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