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Animal law, ethics and legal education

People from a range of backgrounds came together to discuss the treatment of animals at the first Animal Law, Ethics and Legal Education Conference

13 April 2018, at 1:22pm

The first meeting of the Animal Law, Ethics and Legal Education Conference was held at Liverpool John Moores University in September, bringing together people from diverse fields, including law, animal science, veterinary medicine, philosophy and the charitable sector. The aim of the conference was to explore interdisciplinary approaches to the treatment of animals in society and find ways of achieving positive change for animals by bringing together people with research expertise, scientific credentials, ethical reasoning skills and legal experience for implementation of animal welfare in practice. 

Mike Radford of the University of Aberdeen opened the meeting with a keynote speech entitled ‘Beyond Bestiality, Benny-Hugging and Turkey Twizzlers: The increasing development and impact of animal welfare law scholarship’ – explaining that for a long time, animal welfare law as an academic subject was ignored because it was thought to lack academic rigour. Interest in the subject is now growing among researchers and students. 

Brexit – opportunities and challenges 

The opportunities and challenges relating to Brexit were examined by Peter Stevenson from Compassion in World Farming. Of immediate concern is the potential of UK animal welfare law dropping the notion of non-human animal sentience should Article 13 of the European Lisbon Treaty no longer apply. 

The clause states: “…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”. 

Compassion argues that this is a vital addition to the Animal Welfare Act – which only covers people’s actions towards animals rather than ascribing value to the animals in their own right. 

Concerns over welfare standards relating to imports could be met by imposing tariffs, said Peter, citing WTO case law allowing individual countries to impose trade restrictions where there is an issue of public morals, which could include attitudes to animal welfare. On leaving the EU, Peter saw an opportunity to ban live exports, providing a trade agreement can be reached with the WTO. 

Opportunities for positive change in animal welfare following Brexit could include the use of farrowing crates and a move towards better systems such as the SRUC’s PigSAFE crates, and welfare-based subsidies to farmers for using such systems. Also, better labelling of consumer products, including dairy products to display the farming method, better management of supply chains to encourage public services like hospitals to source sustainable meat with high animal welfare standards, and a ban on the preventive use of antibiotics on the farm. 

Pets as property

The place of animals within the family and their legal status as property, objects or autonomous beings was examined by Marie Fox and Sue Westwood of the universities of Liverpool and Keele respectively. Animals are still regarded in law as property, but recent cases such as rulings preventing the separation of elderly people entering care homes and their pets are bringing into question pets’ roles in the family home. 

The authors argue that, backed up by increasing social scientific evidence, the legal status of pets as property should be re-examined and their place in the family reconsidered, suggesting that understanding animals as relational, embodied and vulnerable persons allows us to re-assess some of the most intractable debates within animal law – whether animals should be regarded as property or persons and whether rights or welfare approaches should be adopted. 

Another interesting outcome from the conference was Jamie Murray’s (Liverpool Hope University) speculation that animal law may perhaps be the future basis for law relating to artificial intelligence. Chris Butler Stroud of Whale and Dolphin Conservation described how the global moratorium on commercial whaling in 1982 was a landmark in conservation and animal welfare. 

However, while understanding of whales and marine life has increased significantly, political infighting, economics and political pressure from countries which derive economic and cultural benefits from whaling have stalled any further advancement in whale conservation and pose a threat to whale welfare. 

The overall aim of the conference was to broaden debate and bring people with diverse expertise together. It was highlighted that ALAW (Association of Lawyers for Animal Welfare) membership is open to everyone and participation in the organisation is actively encouraged to build a broad foundation of expertise and positive action.