“We need action, not words on animal welfare”

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Last week, MPs debated the Animal Welfare (Sentiment) Bill in the UK Parliament. If successful, the animals will be legally recognized as capable of feeling pain. Notably in the debate, Kerry McCarthy, who is the Labor MP for Bristol East, came out in favor of the bill, amid acceptance that it is a starting point.

But the debate also noted backsliding, with voices rising from conservatives on keeping hunting and shooting animals.

“It’s one thing to recognize the feelings of animals, but another to act on that knowledge and actively improve their lives for the better,” McCarthy said.

Here’s what she told the government about how it can better support animals, and what other MPs had to say on the matter.

What is the Animal Welfare (Feeling) Bill?

Last year, the UK government announced it would recognize crabs, lobsters and octopus as susceptible. Cephalopod and decapod molluscs were part of the bill as it was presented to Parliament.

By recognizing these beings as sentient, the government accepts that they can experience feelings and emotions. This has been the case with backbone animals, aka vertebrates, for over a century.

This means that they have the ability to feel joy, pain, anxiety, and heat, which is backed up by numerous scientific studies.

The bill is currently at committee stage, which means it is about to be signed into law – with just four steps to go.

MP Kerry McCarthy

McCarthy welcomed the bill and stress the importance of recognizing animals as sentient.

She reminded her peers that while people in the UK “often brag about our quality” in terms of animal welfare, “there are still many examples of animals being abused and exploited”.

Here, she cited the suffering heavily recorded in factory farming and live animal exports.

Kerry McCarthy explains why animal welfare improvements are so important

And, paid tribute to the organizations that work to expose the misery endured by these animals: namely Animal Equality and Viva!.

She said: “We have seen reports of overcrowding, filthy conditions and even cannibalism among the pigs at Hogwood Pig Farm.

“We have seen pigs being killed by having their heads slammed on the ground at Yattendon Pig Farm, chickens dying in heat waves at Moy Park Farm. And chickens dying of thirst, suffering from ammonia burns or resorting to cannibalism on several chicken farms that supply Tesco.

“All the farms I mentioned were Red Tractor approved, with supposedly higher animal welfare. We have a long way to go.”

His speech continued: “If we truly respect animals, we need to do a lot more than just pretend to be sentient.”

McCarthy insisted that we must end the exploitation and abuse of animals on factory farms.

She said we also need to:

  • End the exploitation and abuse of animals in factory farms
  • Stop treating animals like commodities
  • Prohibit hunting and shooting animals for sport
  • “Reverse” the damage done to the natural world

Elsewhere in the debate

Labor MP Jim McMahon agreed: “Animals are capable of bringing us immense joy, and it is right to ensure that they avoid avoidable suffering.

Luke Pollard expressed concerns about how the bill would be implemented, criticizing Defra along with him. He also asked how animal welfare should be addressed in trade agreements.

But for Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown of the Conservatives, things were different.

He proclaimed shooting and angling to be “very important” to Britain’s economy.

“Filming contributes around £2billion to GDP and supports the equivalent of 74,000 full-time jobs,” he said. Additionally, angling – aka sport fishing – is estimated to cost £4m to the economy, he added. And, it provides over 40,000 jobs.

That’s why Clifton-Brown says the government needs to make sure the bill isn’t written into law on the basis of being “a public relations exercise to meet demands from activist groups and tabloids”.

He also claimed there was “no scientific evidence” that invertebrates are sentient.

And yet, the government testified to an 80-page report that contained hundreds of studies providing significant evidence of animal sentience.

You can watch the full debate via Hansard here

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