Sentience - thinking a little deeper
Sentience refers to the ability of an organism to experience suffering. This is not just limited to physical pain, but a broader idea of experiencing the world subjectively. This means that sentient beings have the capacity to experience emotions, much like us humans. Neurological and behavioural components can contribute to this, but there are several explanations and schools of thought that link sentience to an ability to understand suffering, not limited by cognitive ability.
It is an important definition to make because the sentient status of an animal often dictates how it is treated. As our understand grows, we see changes in legislation such as in Switzerland when the cooking of live lobsters was banned in 2018 when it was found that decapod crustaceans were in fact capable of experiencing awareness and pain. Similarly, our understanding of sentience dictated the policy ban on the use of great apes in science. This begs the question: Is there a scale of sentience? Should we take a more proactive approach to animals who we do not know are sentient?
Try out this quick quiz made by the RSPCA to see which animals are sentient. Are you surprised by the results?
Last year, the UK received a new bill to recognise animal sentience. Although sentience was first mentioned in the Animal Welfare Act 2006, this bill outlines more detail and pushes the UK to consider the implications of animal welfare since we have left the EU.
So, what does the bill say exactly?
The bill recognises sentience and welfare needs of all vertebrates. This is a huge step forward - for the first time, this includes decapod crustaceans and cephalopod molluscs (think crabs, lobsters, shrimp). The bill enforces the consideration of animal welfare in any future legislation and an Animal Sentience Committee will be formed.
You can check out the full timeline of events that led up to this momentous occasion at the link here: https://www.ciwf.org.uk/our-campaigns/other-campaigns/animal-sentience-the-highs-and-lows/
We still have a way to go
This bill does not change any existing legislation or give further weight to animal welfare in previous laws. Therefore, we hope that going forward, the new committee can implement ethical and sustainable change. We are still waiting for the Kept Animals Bill to be carried forward to the next parliamentary session, and hope this receives a positive outcome. Keep following Blogs4u for updates on how these bills progress.