The New Zealand Government has formally recognised animals as ‘sentient’ beings by amending animal welfare legislation.
The Animal Welfare Amendment Bill, passed in May of last year, marks a shift in public perception, where previously only some animals were given the benefit of protection.
Previous legislation has extended the protection to chimpanzees, orangutans, or dolphins, this landmark ruling by New Zealand is the first time this shift in perception and policy has been extended to all animals.
The Animal Welfare Bill means that the government now have the power to prosecute people in animal cruelty cases and will ban animal research and testing. The Bill has also made all hunting and the capture of wild animals illegal.
“To say that animals are sentient is to state explicitly that they can experience both positive and negative emotions, including pain and distress,” said Dr Virginia Williams, chair of the National Animal Ethics Advisory Committee.
“The explicitness is what is new and marks another step along the animal welfare journey.”
In addition, new material has been added to the section of the Act pertaining to animal testing for other research purposes. The Government now demands that checks be made as to whether there has been ‘assessment of the suitability of using non-sentient or non-living alternatives in the project’ and ‘replacement of animals as subjects with suitable non-sentient or non-living alternatives’.
Dr Williams said the legal recognition of animal sentience provided a stronger underpinning of the requirements of the Animal Welfare Act.
New Zealand Veterinary Association president Dr Steve Merchant said that the bill will lead to greater clarity, transparency and enforceability of animal welfare laws.
“Expectations on animal welfare have been rapidly changing, and practices that were once commonplace for pets and farm stock are no longer acceptable or tolerated,” he said. “The bill brings legislation in line with our nation’s changing attitude on the status of animals in society.”
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