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Animals, Sentience and the Law

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Transcript of Animals, Sentience and the Law

Animals, Sentience and the Law
Progress or platitudes?
"The inclusion of ‘sentience’ in the Act should not be merely symbolic but rather should set a new standard for society’s expectations of the ways animals are treated, and move us beyond minimum standards
to focusing on positive welfare states and welfare enhancement."
- New Zealand Veterinary Association
Doomed by history
The legislative recognition of sentience was symbolic - but that does not diminish its importance
Sentience as a concept
In July 2017, The New Zealand Veterinarian Association issued a 'position statement', providing its definition of 'sentience':
A groundbreaking development?
The NZVA's statement was in response to the Animal Welfare Amendment Act 2015, which recognised animals are sentient...
Scientific barriers to progress
Despite the intuitive appeal of the concept, there was for a long time resistance to its validity.
Political barriers to progress
If legislative recognition "establishes a responsibility for those in charge of animals to treat them in such a way as to prevent unnecessary pain or distress and
to provide opportunities for them to experience positive emotions.
" (NZVA), this represents a significant, costly, and in some instances, impossible burden for those in charge of animals
M. B. Rodriguez Ferrere, Faculty of Law, University of Otago
Law and Society Association of Australia and New Zealand Conference 2017

The NZVA believes that ‘sentience’ is the ability
to feel, perceive or experience subjectively.
(ie. the animal is not only capable of feeling pain and distress but also can have positive psychological experiences, such as comfort, pleasure or interest that are appropriate to its species, environment and circumstances).

To state that animals are sentient accepts that they can experience positive and negative emotions.

...but didn't provide a definition of what sentience is.
Although it seems an uncontroversial concept, New Zealand was the first common law nation to recognise (in legislation) animals are sentient.
"Because subjective phenomena (e.g. emotions) cannot be observed objectively in animals, it is idle to claim or deny their existence."
The Study of Instinct
(1947), 4.
Animal science has determined the existence of sentience of animals, but it remains near impossible to measure its indicators.
It is, however, almost impossible for it alone to change our legal obligations toward animals: an obligation to provide for positive experiences is both too vague and too politically unpalatable
More than symbolic change is required: true recognition of animal sentience demands wholesale structural change to animal welfare regulation
Full transcript