Animal sentience – the principle that an animal is aware of its surroundings, its relationships with other animals and humans, and of sensations in its own body, including pain, hunger, heat or cold – should be enshrined in UK legislation, the Labour Party has stated.

The move, which came as part of Labour's 50-point Animal Welfare Manifesto which seeks to impose a duty on the state to ensure animal welfare is at the forefront of future policy development, was warmly welcomed by the The British Veterinary Association.

BVA president Simon Doherty commented: “It’s good to see sentience near the top of Labour’s very wide-ranging list of animal welfare priorities for Government, and we hope that they will note the renewed impetus behind enshrining this fundamental principle of how society should treat all species into law as quickly as possible.

"BVA has been campaigning hard for animal sentience to be enshrined in UK law before Brexit, and coordinated an open letter on the subject from over 1200 vets, vet nurses and students towards the end of 2017. The industry is still awaiting news on a decision and how the legislation would be implemented," noted Mr Doherty.

“There is considerable and long-standing professional and public feeling behind the campaign to enshrine sentience, which makes it all the more disappointing that it still hasn’t been given the go-ahead despite government assurances that they are committed to the legislation and underpinning principles. Parliamentary time may be tighter than ever before, but there is a golden opportunity here to make the UK’s status as a global leader on animal welfare resoundingly clear,” he urged.

“We’re also pleased that the Labour party echoes many of BVA’s concerns and campaigning priorities in other points of this extensive document. We will continue to engage closely with parties and stakeholders to keep momentum up at this crucial time on the issues that matter most to our members."