The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill has finally been passed by the UK Parliament on 8th April 2022, which means that about 5% of animals (vertebrates other than Homo sapiens) can now, again, be officially recognized as sentient beings after this right was lost when the country left the EU.
Vertebrates have officially been considered sentient as part of European Union law for 25 years and this has applied to EU Member States including the UK since 1997. However, this stopped applying to the UK when it left the EU at the start of 2021. It has remained a part of EU law as Article 13 of the Treaty of The Functioning of the European Union.
Although it is good that animals recover some rights they have lost for a year, we need to consider that this law only applies to about 5% of species of animals that exist. Most of the animals are still not officially considered sentient beings by any nation in the world, where clearly the vast majority of animals are (with perhaps sponges being the only exception). However, the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill has added two types of invertebrates to the list, and this is better news than just recovering a right vertebrates used to have, but did not prevent them to be exploited. These two invertebrate groups are cephalopod molluscs (like octopuses, squid, and cuttlefish), and decapod crustaceans (such as crabs, shrimps, and lobsters). The non-profit Crustacean Compassion has been campaigning for the inclusion of decapods in the protected list for a long time, so they will be please with the new bill. However, their inclusion will have very little effect on how they are treated. As we know, the recognition of any animal as sentient is ignored for animals exploited by the agriculture and fisheries industries — but perhaps the new law may make it more difficult for anyone to open an Octopus farm as it is happening in Spain.