The Animal Welfare Sentience Bill, first launched in May 2021, was designed to ensure that animal sentience is considered when developing policy across Government.

Originally, only vertebrate animals were included on the bill. However, this has recently changed.

On the 19th of November, the UK government declared that the scope of the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill has been extended to include decapod crustaceans and cephalopod molluscs.

This change follows an LSE report that displays convincing evidence of sentience in two animal groups: (1) Cephalopods, encompassing all octopods and coleoids (squid and cuttlefish) and (2) decapods, comprising crabs, lobsters and crayfish.

Cephalopods (left) and decapods (right) are the most recent addition to the Animal Welfare Bill.

The government-commissioned report led by Dr Jonathon Birch, Associate Professor at LSE’s Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science, draws on over 300 scientific studies assessing the cognitive ability and potential for sentience, in cephalopods and decapods.

Sentience was assessed based on a list of eight criteria. These included evaluations of behaviour as well as the anatomy of the nervous system.

The degree to which the animal in question satisfied the criteria was then rated on a confidence level, ranging from “no confidence” to “very high confidence”.

Whilst there was some variation in confidence levels between taxa, the report found that both groups in question could be considered ‘sentient’. This paved the way for the addition of cephalopods and decapods to the Animal Welfare Sentient Bill.

After the bill amendment, Dr Jonathon Birch said:

“I’m pleased to see the government implementing a central recommendation of my team’s report. After reviewing over 300 scientific studies, we concluded that cephalopod molluscs and decapod crustaceans should be regarded as sentient and should therefore be included within the scope of animal welfare law.

“The amendment will also help remove a major inconsistency: octopuses and other cephalopods have been protected in science for years but have not received any protection outside science until now. One way the UK can lead on animal welfare is by protecting these invertebrate animals that humans have often completely disregarded.”

The Animal Welfare Minister, Lord Zac Goldsmith, said:

“The science is now clear that decapods and cephalopods can feel pain and therefore it is only right that they are covered by this vital piece of legislation.”

Unfortunately, the recent announcement will not affect existing legislation of industry practices such as fishing. There will also be no impact on shellfish catching or the restaurant industry.

It is currently forbidden to boil lobsters alive and declaw crabs in New Zealand, Norway, and Switzerland. Despite the amendment to the Animal Welfare Bill, many fear that these legislations will not be brought into action in the UK.

In spite of this, the addition of cephalopods and decapods to the protection list represents a changing mindset. With future studies, we may yet see a myriad of animals come under new protection.

This is certainly a step in the right direction.

Written by Lucas King