Animal Sentience Discussion Panel

Panel Discussion: Implementing Sentience Policy


  1. How do we make the proposal to consider animal sentience in policy decisions meaningful and work in practice?


Mike Radford – Article 13 sentience didn’t have to be defined as the notion of sentience is not an active element of the article, it was the justification to provide the basis for the requirement to have full regard for animal welfare.  By definition the animals to which this regulation applies are assumed to be sentient and by now trying to define sentience it becomes controversial and opens a can of worms.


Paula Sparks – If there is a duty of care, then how will this duty be undertaken? Are there proper mechanisms for auditing animal sentience? How do they fit into the other Bills e.g. agriculture? How do we implement the needs of animals rather than animal interests? Interests are not always dependent on sentience e.g. animal interests include clean environment, hence we do not need a definition of sentience but we do need to think about defining animal interests.


Steve McCulloch – Something is needed to assess the empirical factors and empirical measurements of impact are needed. This would need an arms-length body to regulate so an independent expert council. I would suggest a mandatory Animal Welfare Impact Assessment.


Penny Hawkins – I feel that in order for the principle to be meaningful the definition of sentience must be made clear and must include cephalopods and crustaceans


Additional Question: What difference did Article 13 actually make? No examples of where it has actually been used.  What is the aim?


Mike Radford – The EU uses sentiency as the provision on which to base their subsequent legislation and it is especially important in countries without local constitutions that protect animals as sentient.


  1. Is there an existing model out there which could be replicated/form the basis of the way sentience is implemented throughout decision making?


Penny Hawkins – The Netherlands Council on Animal Affairs (RDA); an independent, expert body that advises the Minister for Agriculture on multidisciplinary issues relating to animal welfare.  It has 35 members with a range of viewpoints and expertise who are independent, not representatives – appointed by the Ministry of Agriculture. Expertise from outside can also be co-opted.   It advises both in response to tasks (from the Government, sector organisations etc.) and on topics that it has identified. It produces advisory reports that advise on policy directions and approaches. There does not have to be consensus; minority reports are permissible.


Steve McCulloch – Impact assessments have been performed for many areas but there hasn’t been one for AW which seems unusual. This is likely a task for Defra to scope out first and then complete an impact. Animals, like the environment should be considered to have intrinsic value. The Dutch Ministry, are much further ahead and realise that health & welfare are constantly controversial and more scientific or economic research are not solving their problems. So in 2010 thy started to also take input of ‘ethical deliberation’ Utrecht University are training the civil servants to assess ethicality of decisions.  It doesn’t function to provide the answer in a decision making process but increases transparency and informs decision making.


Paula Sparks – There should be reporting to parliament. We already have environmental impact assessments in planning laws to ensure an ‘eyes wide open’ decision. We need a mechanism for reporting to parliament to ensure accountability.


Mike Radford – It is important to identify the welfare needs of animals and this scheme should be based on political accountability (which is already available through UK parliament and devolved parliaments). It still comes down to ministers being held to account by the members of parliament. So parliament should set up an animal audit committee (similar to the environmental one) to hold ministers to decisions. The committee shouldn’t be a standing committee but they could appoint their own experts to help advise – as the environmental committee does also. The Animal Audit Committee could address concerns raised by Defra/RSPCA prosecution’s case – as Defra does not have an ongoing responsibility for the policies they bring to parliament. The Secretary of State should make an annual report to Parliament.


  1. How do you weigh up the cost benefit analysis and make it work across all the different areas?


Steve McCulloch – I think this is the economic language of Government using the term ‘weigh’ and we have to question whether it is suitable? We need to start introducing the language of ethics and values on an equal footing with economics. Weighing up CBA is ethics. Animals are not economic agents. Hence there are different values involved. It is a highly complex issue as different species (human and nonhuman) are involved plus moral pluralism in society about animals. All of this calls for expertise. Ultimately it calls for independent ethical analysis of policy options to inform government policy alongside scientific evidence base and economic analysis. This may constitute a paradigm shift in policy making but is necessary to properly weigh up CBA.


Mike Radford – We do not need to redefine welfare as it is already in the AWA2006 and so I do not support the use of a harm-benefit analysis. We simply must have regard to the welfare needs of animals and that is already set out in the Animal Welfare Act 2006.


Penny Hawkins – It would be better to consider as a harm benefit analysis, as in ASPA. This will require sound guidance as to what constitutes a harm to an animal, as the ability effectively to identify what can cause animals pain, discomfort, anxiety, distress, short-and long-term harm etc. requires specific training, experience and a certain mind set – plus of course independence from the animal use under discussion. If a body of some kind is set up to have oversight of decision making and/or advice, one of its first tasks could be to define its own terms of reference, including the answer to this question.


Mike Radford – ASPA model starts from the assumption that the animals will be harmed, where this Act assumes that the welfare needs of animals will be met.


Paula Sparkes- It is about weighing up different conflicts, not just economic. Are public bodies giving sufficient weight and recognition to animals? It is important that there is transparent decision making and good accountability. So it is most important to have this accountability method established.


Sandy Martin MP – I am interested in the extremes of opinion in stakeholders/public – sometimes the public opinion is ahead of the legislation but sometimes it is the opposite way round.  So it is worth considering what role is there for public education? Representative Vs Direct democracy?


  1. Should this be limited to central Government or should it cover devolved government and public sector bodies and what are the implications of that?


Paula Sparks –  It should be a UK wide duty ideally but the devolved administrations should be able to make their own decisions. Duty shouldn’t just be for ministers of the crown but also to public bodies, Natural England, Forestry Commission, FSA and local authorities.


Mike Radford – It should apply to UK Government, devolved Government and public bodies as a minimum. The range of policies could be defined – perhaps a wide definition but not entirely open.


Steve McCulloch – The implications of limiting e.g. the conduct of Animal Welfare Impact Assessment to Central Government would be twofold. First, some sentient animals (e.g. all those sentient animals affected by Welsh Assembly policy) would not have the same degree of protection, based on accounting for their interests in policy formulation and implementation, than those in England. Second, question 5 below refers to UK Government and business. If the recognition of sentience and mechanisms to account for the interests of animals in policy making were restricted to England, then it would be more problematic for the UK Government to claim the UK is a world-leader in animal welfare, in the event that devolved administrations, for example, did not follow Westminster policy. Similarly, British businesses would be less able to legitimately claim that UK food was world-leading in animal welfare. This is because there would be a more fragmented animal welfare policy landscape across the nation states of the UK. Given that livestock agriculture in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland is more important to their economies than in England, the devolved administrations arguably have a rational self interest in following Westminster policy.


Catherine McLaughlin (NFU) – Which animals are we talking about? Difficult not to find ourselves at cross-purposes as we talk about farm Vs companion? Ministers seem unclear and that is a fundamental thing which needs to be clarified.


Duncan McNair –Does jurisdiction stop at the shores? There is much work that can impact species, present at home or abroad through interests of the UK so would it have to go further than just the


  1. How could animal sentience benefit the work of Government and UK business?


Penny Hawkins – There are plenty of examples of benefits to animal welfare that also improve human benefits. Improved understanding of the sentience and behaviour of companion animals results in more rewarding ‘pet’ ownership, more respect for the sentience and intrinsic worth of wild animals results in more respect for the environment and natural world, which also clearly benefits humans.  It’s a shame to see this only framed in terms of Government and UK business; there is also the wellbeing of the many people who care about animals and their welfare to consider. Presumably better human welfare will also benefit the Government.


Steve McCulloch – Would like to approach the issue from the point of view that we are offering animals justice. My own work has argued that repeated controversies in animal health and welfare policy are to a significant extent a result of the lack of mechanisms in government to account for the interests of sentient animals in policy making. Controversies such as BSE, Salmonella in eggs, badger culling and live animal transport may either not have arisen, or been of a lesser scale, if government had a mechanism to assess the interests of animals and weigh these with the public good. For instance, BSE has been estimated to cost the UK economy £740-980 million.  UK farmers and those higher up the supply chain are positioned to sell high quality meat and dairy products. A significant part of this measure and perception of ‘quality’ is animal welfare. Britain will not be able to compete in a ‘race to the bottom’ on an international globalised economy, with nations such as the US, China, India and Brazil. Thus the recognition of sentience and its implementation by a mechanism to account for animal interests in policy making, such as Animal Welfare Impact Assessment and an independent expert council, ultimately support the aims of British business.


Paula Sparks – Many businesses want to market themselves on their animal welfare credentials. Coming back to definition of animals we can’t really build on the dictionary definition really. We have to link animal needs to the duty. If we can’t prove that an animal doesn’t feel pain, then we can’t give regard to it. Therefore, it is not essential to go down the sentience route as the need of animals (despite sentience) are justifiable enough.


Mike Radford – Animal welfare is a public good in terms of health and disease but also high welfare standards are essential to the UK brand.                                –


Michael Bellingham (PFMA) – Consumers say they want high welfare but are they willing to pay for it? At what stage does high animal welfare come into the food chain? Even China are looking at animal welfare from an investment point of view. Investors are keen to avoid horsemeat scandals and are taking an interest in high animal welfare.  PfMA have their AGM next week which is focusing on driving high welfare and there is clearly recognition that it is a key part of the UK brand going forward.


  1. Are there unforeseen consequences of which we need to be aware?


Mike Radford – It would depend on the scheme. It would be difficult to get into the position where the Chancellor in delivering his budget must have to take into account the impact of his decisions on animals. Interestingly the PM unilaterally said there will not be a free vote on foxes hunting, but if this new AWA2018 had stood then she wouldn’t have been able to do this without a harm-benefit analysis of all stakeholders.


Paula Sparks – It is difficult to talk about this as don’t know what body will be accountable and how it would work but don’t forget the positive unforeseen consequences that could result as we are strengthening legislation.


Penny Hawkins – There has been much talk of ‘unwanted’ consequences, which would I guess be unwanted by people who may have to stop, or modify, or put additional resources into, their current activities. This should not stop or inhibit the legislation in any way – this is about what is right and wrong. Including cephalopods in the Directive and ASPA is an example of consequences that people were wringing their hands over, but which are now being dealt with.


Steve McCulloch – Are there unintended consequences to come that are not already in play as a result of having A13 applicable to UK law? Thousands of sentient species have just a handful of laws to protect them (when humans have thousands of laws). Constitutional law looks to ensure GOV recognise the responsibility to animals.


Ian Woodhouse (WAP) Is some of the reason for the debate on A13 a publicity drive to recognise the UKs high animal welfare? Is this legislation really going to move further forward at all?


Angela Smith MP – I hope there will not be undue pressure on this to be quick legislation as it is important to get this right. The second part of the AWA2018 around sentencing was carefully worded and could be easily implemented and did not need primary legislation – so if it could be decoupled from the sentience clause then this could come in sooner. Nonetheless it is recognised there is a worry that if the sentencing part is decoupled and then we seek to come back to the sentience part, then we may never get that sentience opportunity again. Then we don’t have A13 or sentience


Lord Trees: Key issues which has become clear in the discussion include:

  • Time pressures, would it be possible to get an amendment to the WB? How will the AWA2018 be made fit for purpose under the current timetable?
  • A13 put the onus on Government rather than AWA2006 which put the onus on keepers and we want to preserve this going forward.
  • Definition of sentience – dictionary says anything living thing that could respond to negative stimuli so having respect for needs and animal life is an interesting point.
  • There needs to be a clear separation of ethics and welfare as it cannot lead to question such as should we eat animals which are ethical problems? It needs to be around the welfare problem such as how we keep animals in life.


Points of Agreement


Animal Welfare Impact Assessments would be a good way of measuring implementation of policy

Accountability to Parliament is important

Independent expertise would be valuable and laypeople must be included there is a strong public role in animal welfare

The Netherlands Council on Animal Affairs is a good example to look at.

Animal welfare is a public good in terms of health and disease but also high welfare standards are essential to the UK brand.



Michael Bellingham (PfMA), Nicola Paley (PfMA), Nigel Baker PIF, Alex Baker PIF ,Laura Vallance (Purina), Katherine Horrocks (Mars), Mike Radford (Aberdeen University), Steve McCullogh (Winchester University), Paula Sparkes (ALAW), Prof Tim Morris (AHWBE), Caroline Spence (Defra), Martin Sims (Gloucestershire Police Commissioner), Hilary Alison (Gloucester Police), Heath Keogh (Pet Police), Peter Jinman (CEO FAWC), Fiona Cooke (Local Authority), Lorraine Platt (CAWF), Julia Wrathall (Head of Farm Animal RSPCA), Penny Hawkins (Head of Research Animals RSPCA), Anna Wade (Blue Cross), Alpesh Patel (Animal Free Research), Andrew Gillett (CLA), Christopher Price (CLA), Zoe Edwards (Mayhew), Frances Goodrum (The Brooke), Sophie Hutchinson (BASC), Claire Bass (HIS) ,Catherine McLaughlin (NFU) ,Dr Nick Palmer (CIWF), Jim Barrington (Countryside Alliance), James Legge (Countryside Alliance), Kerry Postwhitle (Cruelty Free International), Anouskha Luboff (Cruelty Free International), Carol Fowler (DBRG), Gudrun Ravetz (BVA), Emma Jo Pereira (Wildlife and Countryside Link) ,Elaine King (CEO Wildlife and Countryside Link), Phoebe Harris (Battersea), Peter Gorbing (CEO Dogs for Good), Claire Calder (Dogs Trust), Charley Longster (Dogs Trust), UK Country Director Stephen Sibbald WAP, WAP Campaigns Manger Ian Woodhurst , Chris Laurence (CFSG)