A bill aiming to respect the sentience of animals, recognising they can feel pleasure and pain, has been extended from vertebrate animals to include decapod crustaceans and cephalopod molluscs.
A news release dated November 19, 2021 from the UK’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, The Rt Hon Lord Benyon, and The Rt Hon Lord Goldsmith recognises octopi, lobsters and crabs as sentient beings.
The news release declares that “The scope of the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill has today been extended to recognise lobsters, octopus and crabs and all other decapod crustaceans and cephalopod molluscs as sentient beings.”
The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill goes back to May 2021, when the UK government had announced that “Vertebrate animals will be recognised as sentient beings for the first time in UK law thanks to the introduction of the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill, introduced in Parliament today.”
At the time, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and The Rt Hon Lord Goldsmith had written “By enshrining sentience in domestic law in this way, any new legislation will have to take into account the fact that animals can experience feelings such as pain or joy. The Bill will underpin the Government’s Action Plan for Animal Welfare, which launched yesterday and sets out the government’s plans to improve standards and eradicate cruel practices for animals both domestically and internationally.”
Now the recognition of sentience has been extended further than vertebrate animals to some invertebrate animals such as “lobsters, octopus and crabs and all other decapod crustaceans and cephalopod molluscs.”
The November 2021 news release distinguishes these invertebrates, noting that “unlike some other invertebrates (animals without a backbone), decapod crustaceans and cephalopods have complex central nervous systems, one of the key hallmarks of sentience.”
The recognition of sentience does not extend to protection of these animals in the sense that it “will not affect any existing legislation or industry practices such as fishing. There will be no direct impact on the shellfish catching or restaurant industry. Instead, it is designed to ensure animal welfare is well considered in future decision-making.”
The decision was made based on a government-commissioned report by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE Consulting, to be exact).
Writing in the Foreword, Nicola S. Clayton, Professor of Comparative Cognition, Department of Psychology, University of Cambridge, says that “[Jonathan] Birch and colleagues have developed a highly important and extremely useful framework for evaluating the evidence for sentience, the capacity to experience pain, distress and/or harm, in cephalopod molluscs (including cuttlefish, octopods and squid) and decapod crustaceans (including crabs, crayfish, lobsters, prawns, shrimps).”
Clayton concludes by praising the report, saying that it has proven that cuttlefish, octopods, squid, crabs, crayfish, lobsters, prawns and shrimps are sentient creatures and deserve protection under the UK bill.
The May news release boasts that the UK has “a long history” of improving the lives of animals, being “the first country in the world to pass legislation to protect animals in 1822 with the Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act and later the landmark Protection of Animals Act in 1911.”
The Animal Welfare Bill, then would be the latest bill to become law in the UK’s history of caring for sentient animals.
The May news release notes that “The Government has continued to uphold this tradition of high welfare standards over the years through many reforms, ranging from banning the use of battery cages for laying hens and introducing compulsory CCTV in slaughter houses and most recently raising the maximum sentence for animal cruelty from six months to five years.”
Sentient animals – excluding pets – will not necessarily escape being raised or caught for being served as food in restaurants and homes; yet UK citizens can, at the very least, expect that they were raised/caught, and killed humanely, once the Bill becomes Law.