The UK is Set to Recognize Animals as Sentient Beings Under New Animal Welfare Plan

The mistreatment of animals raised for food, pet theft, and trophy hunting are just a few of the hardships facing the animal kingdom. The United Kingdom is set to address all of these issues and more in a new package of laws that will recognize animals as sentient beings.

The government’s Action Plan for Animal Welfare, which includes a series of bills set to be approved in the months ahead, will require cats to be microchipped, ban the export of live animals for slaughter, and bar the import of hunting trophies, among other steps. The goal is to protect animals in the UK and those abroad.


Environment Secretary George Eustice says, “We are a nation of animal lovers and were the first country in the world to pass animal welfare laws. Our action plan for animal welfare will deliver on our manifesto commitment to ban the export of live animal exports for slaughter and fattening, prohibit keeping primates as pets, and bring in new laws to tackle puppy smuggling.”

One of the key measures is one requiring cats to be microchipped, which has already been a requirement for dogs since 2016. Officials say cat theft is on the rise, and only about 70% of felines in the U.K. are microchipped. The requirement would be monitored by veterinarians and enforced in the same way that they check for dog chips. At this point, more than 90% of dog owners are in compliance.

Chris Sherwood, chief executive of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), says the measures will make a real and lasting difference to animals. He’s also hoping the government adds onto this first step.


He explains, “We can no longer ignore the inextricable link that exists between the way we treat animals, our own health and that of the planet – but to really achieve a step change, it will take courage from right across government.

“We urge the government to put animal welfare at the heart of policy making and make these announcements just the beginning of an evolving, holistic animal health and welfare strategy.”

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Farm animal welfare will be addressed by banning the export of live animals for slaughter and fattening, examining the practice of poultry caging, and investigating the movement restriction of pregnant and suckling pigs. To help get farmers on board, there will be an incentive program for them to improve their animals’ health and welfare.

The moves are reflected in another portion of the plan: a measure codifying in law that animals are self-aware beings capable of feeling hunger and pain. This applies to vertebrates. Eustace says there would be an animal sentience committee that advises on policy.


James West, senior policy manager at Compassion in World Farming, says activists have spent years campaigning for these changes.

He explains, “We have long been calling for UK legislation that recognizes animals as sentient beings and for sentience to be given due regard when formulating and implementing policy. We are also delighted the government has confirmed it will legislate for a long-overdue ban on live exports for slaughter and fattening. We have been campaigning for this for decades: it is high time this cruel and unnecessary trade is finally brought to an end.”

To tackle wildlife issues, there will also be a ban on the import and export of shark fins, a ban on ivory, and a ban on the import of hunting trophies from endangered animals.

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