“I’m also sure that New Zealand’s new bill will force bright and creative scientists around the world to think about and to develop non-animal alternatives that also will make for better science and produce more reliable scientific results. This surely will be a win-win situation for all involved and it’s a goal for which all should passionately strive.” ~ Marc Bekoff Ph.D; Psychology Today
As I have written in the past I grew up being told that animals were not sentient beings.
I loved science but I saw this was concept was especially evident in the scientific use of animals that I observed. The psychology studies on monkeys; the draize test etc.
Regardless of what my community thought, from a fairly young age I started to theorize there was not really much difference between animals and us – they too loved their families, felt fear and pain, communicated and struggled to live day to day the best they could.
Over my lifetime I have watched a big change in this concept
In July 2013 a group of scientists published The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness which said “Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”
Now New Zealand has passed landmark legislation in which it is declared that all animals are sentient beings (link is external)and certain types of animal testing are now illegal and punishable by five years in prison or a $500,000 fine (link is external). One essay about this groundbreaking move notes, “Just like the rest of us, animals can feel joy and excitement, but they can also sense fear and distress in unusual or unfamiliar situations. They too feel physical pain while being poked, prodded, and injected with unnatural chemicals that often times lead to mutation, diseases, and even death.”
While one might quibble about whether “all” animals are sentient beings, this new legislation — you can read the entire bill here (link is external) — goes beyond any other on the books. I’ve also called for a universal declaration on animal sentience based on what we know about the cognitive and emotional lives of other animals.
We don’t need more research to support new legislation that better protects other animals, and it’s disappointing that we’re not even using what we know right now and have known for some time. New Zealand’s legislation is based on solid science and does not go beyond what we now know about the fascinating lives of the other animals with whom we share our magnificent planet. It should make everyone, including researchers, think deeply about how we choose to use other animals, and to make every effort to make their lives the very best they can be. We can do no less.
Animal Welfare Act Amendment