Europe Grants Animals Legal Status of Sentient Beings

December 2, 2009

December 1st was a big day for animals in the European Union: for the first time, fish and farmed animals alike have gained the legal status of “sentient beings.” This victory promises to shape all future legal measures in Europe related to raising, transporting, and slaughtering animals.

It’s been a long time coming. Back in 1991, a campaign initiated by Compassion in World Farming got sentient being status mentioned in a non-binding treaty declaration. In 1997, sentience was bumped up to a treaty protocol, which carried some legal force. Now, this status has been granted in the main text of the Lisbon Treaty, which carries far more legal power.

I know that the previous paragraph is tediously written—as Bismarck noted, crafting laws is like making sausage, it’s best not to see it happen—but the gains won this year set vital precedent. Here’s how Philip Lymberry, who runs Compassion In World Farming, sums up the victory:

I remember how our late founder dreamed of changing the EU’s underpinning Treaty to better address the status of animals. I remember how that goal was seen as impossible, impractical, by some, even laughable. Now that dream has come true. Now to make that other dream come true; an end to factory farming itself and its terrible travelling companion, the long distance transport of animals.

I say it all the time: the most important thing to understand about animal rights victories is that they’re all about precedent. This win not only advances the possibilities for animal protection in Europe, it will also give American activists a big push in seeking similar gains in the United States. (Danke, Mahi.) Link.

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