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Assessing and Respecting Sentience After Brexit

Thanks to a generous grant from Open Philanthropy, last year the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics and the Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities co-sponsored a workshop with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) examining the ethical and legal implications of recent advancements in our ability to assess the mental states and well-being of nonhuman animals.  The impetus for the meeting was that since 2009, the United Kingdom had been operating under article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty which states that the European Union and member states, ”shall, since animals are sentient beings, pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals.” However, after voting to leave the European Union, the United Kingdom was tasked with deciding which rules and provisions to retain, and controversy erupted several years ago when MPs voted against transferring this provision of the Lisbon Treaty to the United Kingdom post-Brexit.

Afterward, the legislators who voted against article 13 stated that their vote should not be interpreted as a suggestion that animals are not sentient and that animal welfare standards would remain as strong as ever after Brexit. Nevertheless, the vote caused a media firestorm and demonstrated that the public is mindful about the United Kingdom’s official position on sentience and status as a global leader in animal welfare. Now that the United Kingdom has officially voted to leave the European Union and the animal welfare implications of Brexit are still very much up-for-grabs, the workshop offered a timely summary of advancements in our ability to assess sentience in nonhuman animals as well as discussion of the legal and ethical implications of this work. Videos from the short (~15 minute) talks from the day are posted below.

Jonathan Birch from the London School of Economics discussed the application of the precautionary principle in regards to animal welfare policy:

Mike Radford of the University of Aberdeen School of Law discussed the legal implications of sentience:

There were also several excellent scientific talks reviewing the state of the art in various fields:

The conference attendees included representatives from DEFRA, the Home Office, trade and industry groups, and animal care professionals.  For more information about the days events, see the RSPCA write-up.


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