A cause for celebration is that animals in the European Union (EU) are legally recognised as sentient beings; they have legal status as being capable of feeling pain, suffering and, if we give them the chance, a sense of well-being. It was the outcome of a campaignthat started in the 1980s in reaction to animals being classified as mere ‘agricultural products’, the psychological and legal pretext that arguably enabled the rise of the long distance transport trade in live animals for slaughter.
The original agreement to give legal status to animals as sentient beings was made in Amsterdam in 1997. Many of us will remember the summer’s day when we marched through the streets of that fine city, demanding that the Treaty of Rome be changed to take a more favourable view of animals. The ‘Amsterdam Protocol’, as it became known, was annexed, or loosely attached, to the founding treaty of the European Community.
Now we have renewed cause for celebration. The entry into force of The Lisbon Treaty in the EU sees this recognition enshrined in a dedicated ‘Article’, a core text of the Treaty. This will give it greater weight in the eyes of decision-makers. We can rejoice at the status of animals having advanced further in Europe.
For the record, the Article states that “In formulating and implementing the Union’s agriculture, fisheries, transport, internal market, research and technological development and space policies, the Union and the Member States shall, since animals are sentient beings, pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals, while respecting the legislative or administrative provisions and customs of the Member States relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage.”
Legal recognition of animals as sentient beings does not, of itself, end the practices that we seek to reform; practices such as taking animals on long, unnecessary journeys to slaughter or treating them simply as units of production on our factory farms. However, it does strengthen our argument and gives us a significant lift in shaping decisions that will influence the lives of hundreds of millions of farm animals.
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.