Successful producers know how to “read animals” and maximise that instinctive knowledge to produce healthy, contented livestock, which means a profitable business. 

Sentience simply means that an animal is capable of feeling. Anyone who has ever spent any meaningful time with an animal would have no doubt that they are capable of feeling. Farmers who spend every day with livestock and other animals instinctively know how animal sentience impacts on the health and wellbeing of their animals. 

It is universally accepted that humans are sentient and over time there has been increasing scientific acknowledgement that other animals are also capable of conscious and subjective experiences. This was first recognised in vertebrate animals with other animals now recognised as capable of thinking and feeling. 

All Australian jurisdictions now have animal welfare legislation and that, in itself, implicitly recognises that animals are sentient. The very concept of cruelty is premised on the understanding that the victim can feel. Why else would it be wrong to be cruel to an animal? This year, the ACT became the first jurisdiction in Australia to expressly recognise the sentience of animals in legislation.

In practical terms, inclusion of sentience in the Act in the ACT explains why animal welfare matters and in doing so, enhances the educational utility of the law and provides further guidance to those tasked with interpreting and applying the legislation. This clarity in purpose is also expected to assist magistrates and judges in properly characterising the nature of animal welfare offences for the purpose of sentencing animal cruelty offenders.

Worldwide, animal sentience was first recognised centuries ago but has only in the last few decades been explored scientifically and included in animal related policies. In 2008, the signing of the Treaty of Lisbon officially acknowledged animals as sentient in the European Union. 

In 2017, the Victorian Government published the Animal Welfare Action Plan, which acknowledges animals as sentient. New Zealand, Canada also recognise sentience in legislation. 

Recognition of animal sentience is a feature of modern animal welfare law that reflects scientific knowledge and common understanding. The RSPCA believes it should also become a feature of WA’s Animal Welfare Act in any review. 

Return to Livestock Welfare Matters Blog