Legislation regarding animal sentience and welfare is not what most would think of when discussing the debates that have been prompted by the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union. However, as with most Brexit dealings, the UK has been forced to unthread itself from the complicated and intricate legal web in which it was tied.
Under EU legislation, specifically Article 13 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), animals are to be regarded as sentient beings, with “sentience” defined as the ability to experience pain. However, with Brexit and the UK's eventual detachment from the TFEU, many have raised questions concerning the country's legal substitutes or planned replacements for Article 13. Some point out that, although the UK lacks animal sentience laws equivalent to Article 13, it does uphold the Animal Welfare Act of 2006. While this is a salient point, one can argue that the Animal Welfare Act of 2006 is not a satisfactory legal replacement for Article 13 as it does not provide the same legal protections.
The significance of Article 13 lies not only in its recognition of animals as sentient beings but in the legal obligations it creates for Member States which are required to pay “full regard… to animals’ welfare requirements”. Importantly, these protections apply to all animals. In contrast, the Animal Welfare Act of 2006 only protects those that are under human control — farm animals, pets, and wild animals in captivity, thus excluding wild animals as well as animals used in experiments.
Efforts have been made to include Article 13 in UK law in the post-Brexit era through the NC30 Amendment cited. However, these have been futile as the Amendment was defeated 313 to 295 votes. Therefore, as soon as the UK strips off its status as an EU Member State, it will consequently also remove itself from the obligation to pay “full regard” to animal welfare through its policies.
While many find the lack of protection provided by the Animal Welfare Act in comparison to Article 13 alarming, post-Brexit Uk is by no means immune to influences from EU regulations. It is likely that animal welfare standards, particularly with regard to farm animals, will be reshaped according to negotiations within future trade deals. This is not to say the concern is unfounded; the defeat of NC30 and the subsequent exclusion of Article 13 from UK law is unquestionably a setback for animal rights and its advocates. However, the full ramifications will not be completely realised until after Brexit. The situation could go one of two ways: UK Ministers, mostly freed from the limitations of adhering to EU law, will have the ability to increase animal welfare standards or diminish their efficacy.
Brexit has sparked a series of debates and questions with the standing of animal welfare legislation in the UK being only one of them. In its current state, the UK will recognise animal sentience under the Animal Welfare Act of 2006. However, the most significant component of Article 13, its requirement to pay “full regard” to animal welfare, will be absent from UK law. Only time will tell what this exclusion will mean after Brexit. Whether or not the Animal Welfare Act of 2006 will provide adequate protection is the chief concern. Laws regarding animal sentience and welfare have long been a source of contention, even before the onset of Brexit, and they will most likely remain so after the process of leaving the EU is completed.