The animal protection movement made some great progress this week when the U.K. announced new legal recognitions for animals and a plan to improve animal welfare policies. Here, Claire Bass, executive director of Humane Society International/U.K., explains what this means for animals.

As the political dust from Brexit continues to settle, Humane Society International/U.K. celebrates big steps forward for animals in the United Kingdom. Animals are now to be legally recognized as sentient beings thanks to the U.K. government’s first-ever Action Plan for Animal Welfare, which commits to new policies and laws that will improve the treatment of animals in the U.K. and abroad. For years, HSI/U.K. has campaigned on many of the issues in the plan, including the legal recognition of animals as beings who have feelings and emotions.

The flagship legislation will create a new cross-government Animal Sentience Committee, as well as requiring government ministers to take animal welfare into account when making and implementing policies and laws. We welcome this legislation, while also calling for it to be strengthened.

The U.K. government often states that it wants to lead the world on animal welfare, and the action plan identifies several areas where action for animals may now be taken unilaterally following the U.K.’s departure from the European Union. These include: banning live exports of animals for slaughter or fattening; steps toward banning the use of inhumane cages for hens and immobilizing crates for pigs; banning the keeping of primates as pets; and, banning imports of detached shark fins.

The action plan will also renew considerations to restrict the sale and import of fur in the U.K. Because HSI/U.K. leads the campaign for a #FurFreeBritain, we are delighted to see the government taking seriously the call and opportunity for the U.K. to become the first country in the world to ban fur sales. Closing the door on the fur trade is not only critical to stop animal suffering, it is also key to addressing the human health risks posed by fur farms. A recent risk assessment from international organisations such as the World Health Organization stated that the public health risk from the SARS-CoV-2 spillover from fur farms to humans in Europe is “high.”

The action plan also reaffirmed the U.K. government’s commitment to another of HSI’s global priorities, a ban on the import of hunting trophies, such as mounted rhinoceros heads. Our team is urging ministers to ensure that the ban is the strongest in the world, avoiding the type of loopholes present in the U.S. system, which allow trophies to be imported under a permit system that is both ineffective for animal protection and conservation, and legally burdensome.

The Action Plan for Animal Welfare and new sentience law have the potential to set the bar high for animal welfare progress in the U.K. and in the other parts of the world. Crucial to this success will be ensuring that animal welfare wins in the U.K., such as bans on caging and crating farm animals, are not undermined by trade negotiations that would allow imports of lower welfare products produced overseas.

Delivering meaningful, once-in-a-lifetime change for animals will require a resolve for the U.K. government not to buckle in the face of pressure from those with vested interests in inhumane products and practices. The HSI/U.K. team will continue working closely with the government, backed by the voices of our passionate supporters, to seize this opportunity and ensure that ambitious aims are met with meaningful action and equally ambitious and robust legislation.