animal sentience act

Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act formally recognises animals as sentient beings



This marks a significant milestone in bolstering animal protection. We must recognise animal sentience and create a better deal for animals in the UK.

Thanks to the movement created by supporters and allies campaigning across the animal welfare sector, on the 7th of April 2022, the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill finally became UK law.

A Better Deal for Animals

This law was proposed because, as a member of the EU, the UK was legally obliged to recognise animal sentience. This means the ability of some animals to experience positive and negative feelings and emotions.

However, after leaving the EU this no longer applied, which placed animals without the same legal protections when new laws, policies, or trade deals would be developed in the future.

In 2019, the Better Deal for Animals coalition, comprised of over 40 animal welfare charities, joined together, and launched a campaign for animal sentience to be recognised in UK law for the first time.

A petition with over 100,000 signatures was handed-in to the Prime Minister. As a result, in November 2019 the Government announced that it would introduce legislation.

With several long delays to the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill, the coalition, including World Animal Protection, wrote a letter urging Prime Minister Boris Johnson “don’t betray animals”. Finally on the 7th of April 2022, the Bill was given royal assent and therefore became the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act.

What does the Animal Sentience Act do? 

Firstly, the law recognises the sentience and welfare needs of all vertebrate animals including, for the first time, decapod crustaceans and cephalopod molluscs (otherwise known as shrimp, crabs, lobsters, and octopuses). 

Secondly, it requires policy makers to consider animal sentience when creating or changing laws. 

And thirdly, an Animal Sentience Committee made up of experts will be established to examine and review government policy on how it might affect animal welfare. 

This is a landmark piece of legislation because it means the interests of animals must be considered when laws are made, and also allows the Government to be challenged if this is not done. This gives animal welfare activists a new tool to promote animal protection.

What it doesn’t do is force the Government to make decisions in animals favour or overturn any existing legal but cruel practices.

Furthermore, the Act underpins the Government’s ‘Action Plan for Animal Welfare’ which also includes the Kept Animals Bill and the Animals Abroad Bill.

The good news is that the Kept Animals Bill has been carried over into the next parliamentary session, but due to worrying reports that the Government might drop the Animals Abroad Bill, we have been fighting to ensure this does not happen.

It is vital that the Government delivers on their promises and prioritises animal welfare.

What happens next?

On Tuesday 10th May, we will find out in the Queen’s Speech at the State Opening of Parliament whether the Animals Abroad Bill will be part of the Government’s agenda in the next parliamentary session.

Thank you for all you have done to fight to end animal cruelty and suffering. We have shown that change is always possible, and we will continue to move the world to protect animals.

Blog Author:
Annie Evans, UK Campaign Officer.

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Image credits: Blog listing page: World Animal Protection / Noelly Castro; blog post Veronica White/Unsplash

It is vital that the Government delivers on their promises and prioritises animal welfare.

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