The Tory Government has outdone itself when it comes to neglecting animal rights this week – by effectively declaring that all animals (apart from humans, of course) have no emotions or feelings, including the ability to feel pain. While debating the Brexit bill, MPs voted not to transfer into UK law the parts of EU legislation which recognise animals have sentience, and can feel pain and emotions.
Remember all that campaigning against the badger cull and May’s attempt to bring back fox-hunting? It was probably all a waste. As the Government begins to shape the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, it has taken a vote to scrap EU legislation that sees non-human animals as sentient beings. Once we leave the EU in 2019, it’s not only badgers and foxes that will be threatened by this change in law, but all animals that aren’t pets. So basically all animals that it will be profitable to exploit.
But politicians clearly think that they know better about animal brains than the majority of scientists on the planet. This complete lack of logic leads me to believe that many of our MPs probably have less intelligence than a jellyfish. But unfortunately I don’t have any stake in Parliament to vote through my personal opinions, unlike those MPs.
Realistically though, who would be surprised by this new vote? Despite Michael Gove’s calls to improve animal welfare standards post-Brexit, we all know the Government, and in fact most of the UK public, doesn’t really care about animals unless they’re cute and fluffy.
This is how we have ended up in a society where a cat being thrown in a bin sparks national outrage, but the majority of the population will complain about this while eating a burger from the local fast food chain which has probably come from a chicken that suffered abuse its whole life.
“Animal welfare” in the Government’s (and indeed the public’s) eyes is riddled with double standards. At the moment, 80 per cent of the UK’s animal welfare legislation comes from the EU – if we’re voting out the fact that animals are sentient, why would we even bother with the rest of it? If the Government doesn’t believe that animals can even feel pain, surely none of their rights will be protected at all.
When we leave the EU, pets will be protected by the Animal Welfare Act 2006. But where does this leave wild animals, those in labs, and those in other forms of captivity? Just a small example of this is cosmetics testing. Under EU law it is illegal to test on animals for cosmetics like body wash and nail varnish. But this could easily be scrapped just like the recognition of animals as sentient beings has been.
We are looking at a very grim future for animals, where hunting is reintroduced, labs are free to test on animals with as much cruelty as they wish (and no pain relief) and farms are less and less regulated.
But what worries me most about this development is that it shows just how much potential havoc Brexit could cause. Voting the recognition of animal sentience out of UK legislation is a pretty big deal, but it’s barely been reported on in mainstream news outlets. As each EU law is put to the vote, I wonder how many more will be scrapped without being brought to the public’s attention. Why are we not being consulted about what laws are being changed? Why are we barely even being told?
In the next two years, the Government will make a multitude of changes in the hope that when 2019 comes, our laws will have altered so much that no amount of campaigning at that time will be able to overturn the decisions made. Campaigners will be forced to pick the one or two “most important” rights to get back, and everything else will go through unchallenged.
It will be too difficult to change every single law when it is implemented in 2019. It is not too difficult now, however, to tackle each dodgy vote as it makes its way through Parliament.
In the coming weeks and months, MPs will be voting on our future. They will be voting on the future of other animals, but they will also be voting on the future of the environment and human beings. So let’s challenge this sham vote on animal feelings, and let’s challenge the rest of the nonsense the Tory Government tries to throw at us too.
This piece was updated to clarify the way in which MPs voted against animal sentience