Animals get legal recognition as ‘sentient’ beings in New Zealand

New legislation in New Zealand dictates that animals can feel both positive and negative emotions, and takes steps to improve animal welfare in research

Animals have formally been recognised as ‘sentient’ beings in new legislation passed in New Zealand.

The Animal Welfare Amendment Bill, passed in May, also says that owners must “attend properly to the welfare of those animals”.

“To say that animals are sentient is to state explicitly that they can experience both positive and negative emotions, including pain and distress,” quotes Dr Virginia Williams, chair of the country’s National Animal Ethics Advisory Committee, as saying.

“The explicitness is what is new and marks another step along the animal welfare journey,” she added.

The legislation also marks progress in connection with animal testing for research purposes.

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It dictates that checks must now 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”.

The Independent reports that president of the New Zealand Veterinary Association, Dr Steve Merchant, said: “Expectations on animal welfare have been rapidly changing. The bill brings legislation in line with our nation’s changing attitude on the status of animals in society.”