A vote by MPs to reject the inclusion of animal sentience into the EU (Withdrawal) Bill is extremely disappointing and undermines the Government’s ambition to achieve the highest animal welfare standards post-Brexit, claims the RSPCA.

Under EU law, animals are recognised as beings which feel pain and emotions. Eighty percent of current animal welfare legislation comes from the EU, but after March 2019, European law will no longer apply in the UK.

While most EU law relating to animals will be automatically brought over into UK law, this will not apply to the recognition of sentience. The RSPCA has therefore been pressing for the recognition of animal sentience to be embedded into future UK legislation, to help ensure that leaving the EU is not a backwards step for animal welfare.

One of the arguments put forward by the Government during the debate was that animal sentience is covered by the Animal Welfare Act 2006. But this is not the case; the term sentience or sentient being doesn’t appear once in that Act and more importantly it doesn’t cover all animals.

RSPCA Head of Public Affairs David Bowles said: “It’s shocking that MPs have given the thumbs down to incorporating animal sentience into post-Brexit UK law. This is truly a backward step for animal welfare.

“Animal sentience is never mentioned in the Animal Welfare Act and, crucially, only domestic animals are really covered by the provisions of the Act anyway and animals in the wild and laboratories expressly exempt It is simply wrong for the Government to claim that the Act protects animal sentience.

“In the EU, we know that the recognition of animals as sentient beings has been effective in improving animal welfare across the region. If the UK is to achieve the Environment Secretary’s objective of achieving the highest possible animal welfare post-Brexit, it must do the same.

“Animals are not ‘commodities’ and any laws impacting on them needs to take into account their capacity to suffer. They are sentient beings, with feelings and emotions.”

“A formal acknowledgement that animals are sentient would have sent a strong message to politicians to help shape future legislation, ensuring the best protection for animals.

“The call for legal recognition of animal sentience is echoed across animal protection groups and members of the public. As the EU Withdrawal Bill continues its progress through Parliament we will once again be urging for this important acknowledgement of animals sentence to be included”.


Research shows that much like humans, animals are sentient beings and aware of their feelings and emotions. Their lives matter to them and they have the same capacity to feel joy and pleasure, as well as pain and suffering.

Sadly, millions of animals are still being kept in conditions that do not meet their needs. However, laws are changing and there have recently been significant improvements in how animals are treated.

Since the recognition of animals as sentient beings, the EU has:

  • Banned the use of barren battery cages

  • Ended animal testing for cosmetics

  • Prohibited the import of seal products.

David Bowles added: “More than 900 million farm animals are reared every year in the UK, as well as many millions of fish and we’re working hard to try to improve the lives as many farm animals as possible. Much like us, farm animals are sentient beings and aware of their feelings and emotions – their lives matter and more needs to done to protect their welfare.”

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