Earlier this month, a change was made to New Zealand’s Animal Welfare Amendment Bill stating that animals — like humans — are “sentient” beings.
As reported in The Independent, the updated Act means it’s now a legal requirement for the citizens of New Zealand to “recognize animals as sentient.” Accordingly, “owners of animals, and persons in charge of animals, [must] attend properly to the welfare of those animals.” The updated bill also makes it illegal to experiment on animals when testing cosmetic products.
The change to the Bill essentially means that animals can no longer be treated as things or objects. It should now be considerably easier to prosecute neglect and abuse cases.
The new law, which came into effect on May 12, was first proposed by primary industries minister Nathan Guy in May 2013. The notion that animals are sentient is consistent with The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness, a document signed by an international group of prominent scientists back in 2012.
“To say that animals are sentient is to state explicitly that they can experience both positive and negative emotions, including pain and distress,” noted Dr Virginia Williams, chair of the National Animal Ethics Advisory Committee, at Animal Equality. “The explicitness is what is new and marks another step along the animal welfare journey.”
Though an important precedent, the legislation does not go so far as to declare sentient animals as legal persons. Subsequently, animals are still considered property under New Zealand law.
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