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24 March 2021

Group of veterinary professionals including the (Sheep Veterinary Society) representing all areas of the workforce have written an open letter demanding that the Government takes swift action to enshrine the principle of animal sentience in legislation.

Officers and representatives from the British Veterinary Association (BVA) and 18 species divisions and affiliate groups have signed a letter printed in today’s (Wednesday) Daily Telegraph, in which they call on the Government to deliver on commitments to animal sentience made back in December 2017.

The letter and accompanying article marks 40 months since then Environment Secretary Michael Gove stated that the Government was ‘acting energetically’ to strengthen protections for animals after Brexit.  However, progress on embedding sentience has since stalled, with the Government stating that they will find the appropriate vehicle to introduce it into law ‘when parliamentary business allows’.

BVA’s recently published position on animal sentience recognises the robust and growing evidence base that demonstrates the capacity of animals across the species to have feelings including pain and pleasure, implying a level of conscious awareness.  It recommends that the Government should make sure that legislation on sentience is ‘meaningful and proportionate’, and that it imposes a duty on the state to have due regard for the principle in future policy-making.

Signatories to the Telegraph letter span all areas of veterinary work including small and large animal practice, research, government and academia, and the letter has also been signed by the Presidents of the British Veterinary Nursing Association (BVNA) and Association of Veterinary Students (AVS).  In 2017, BVA spearheaded an open letter on sentience signed by nearly 1,200 vets, vet nurses and students.

Daniella Dos Santos, BVA Senior Vice President, said:

“Michael Gove promised ‘energetic’ action on sentience back in 2017, following concerted campaigning by veterinary associations and animal welfare organisations and a huge outpouring of public feeling.  After such a promising start, it’s so disappointing that this fundamental principle of animal welfare has still not got over the line and into law forty months on from this commitment.

”BVA’s position on sentience recognises how critical it is that the principle is carried through into UK law now that we have left the EU.  Taking action would mean that the needs of animals across the species were considered in future policy-making, and set a strong reminder of the UK’s position as a global leader on animal welfare.”

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