Despite the apparently high-minded language recognising animal sentience in legislation, it is often accompanied by quite little direct and immediate change for animals. Leaving the legislation to largely be a symbolic statement of pledged values.
ANIMAL ASK: The sentience of animals has long been recognised and has continued to be demonstrated on ever firmer scientific grounds. From the Brambell report, which emphasised the importance of sentience in the understanding of animal welfare to the Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness, which suggested widespread scientific acceptance of the idea. In recent years, this widespread and scientific belief has been explicitly recognised in legislation in a growing number of countries and jurisdictions.
It is certainly crucial that animal sentience be recognised in this way, as it is the most widely accepted basis for the inclusion of animals as moral patients. However, there is another question as to the value of the kind of legislation recognising the sentience of animals that we see in many different countries. This legislation explicitly recognises their sentience, though many other pieces of legislation could be thought to already implicitly do so…
However, despite the apparently high-minded language recognising animal sentience in legislation, it is often accompanied by quite little direct and immediate change for animals. In some cases the legislation is accompanied by some specific statements about what the recognition of animal sentience is taken to directly imply, but there is typically little of this, leaving the legislation to largely be a symbolic statement of pledged values, leading to some concerns that it may be ineffectual legislation that leads to complacency. This type of humane washing remains our biggest concern with the legislation, but we think it is unlikely that it makes the ask net negative.
In the case of the EU and New Zealand legislation, the intention behind the legislation as purely symbolic has been publicly stated, though this intention does not foreclose the possibility that animal advocates are able to draw some future victories from the legislation. In other cases such as Oregon and Québec we have seen some court cases that have successfully leveraged the legislation to push against the treatment of animals as property, though any significant improvements to animal welfare have yet to be seen.
The most successful case so far has been that of the UK, because it promises to establish a committee to make sure that government decisions give due consideration to animal sentience. Further, it includes cephalopods and decapod crustaceans, and there is some chance this will lead to further protection for these animals. However, the head of the sentience committee does not seem like the appropriate choice to ensure its independence because of his conflict of interest as a farmer.
Despite the absence of direct effects so far, sentience legislation so far has some plausibility as being instrumental in the long-term strategy of the movement. This makes assessing the value of this ask quite difficult, since this potential long-term importance is much more difficult to evaluate.
Overall, our best estimate is that this ask has modest strength. In other words, with significant uncertainty, we think that the impact is fairly small compared to our top asks. We do not think that there is a risk of this ask being net negative, though we strongly recommend that organisations try to push to get sentience legislation to have concrete protections, so that it is more than symbolic and this risk is minimised. The strength of the ask will of course also vary by country context, and we could imagine it being competitive in certain cases.
This report analyses the value of this legislation in terms of its current and future impact on animals… In our research helping organisations prioritise among different potential asks, we have considered the value of animal sentience legislation in many contexts… It draws mainly from case studies and existing philosophical and legal research. Expert interviews were also conducted. A more in-depth report could spend more time analysing parallels of potentially symbolic legislation (like declarations of climate emergencies). SOURCE…