A revolution is coming in our relationship with ‘lower’ creatures, provoked by a greater knowledge of their cognition. Labour’s new plans for animal welfare are just a start
Scientific insight is a powerful thing, but will it ever override the human lust for health, prosperity and, saddest of all, convenience? This question entered my head as I read of the Labour party’s newly announced policies for animal welfare “informed and underpinned by the latest evidence on animal sentience”. Such an approach would lead to laudable bans on foie gras imports and nonsensical badger culling. But let’s be careful what we wish for: further down the line, it would also lead to some uncomfortable dilemmas. In fact, how we redraw our relationship with animals promises to be one of the dominant themes of the coming decades.
Those alert to animal sentience already find themselves in difficult situations. Richard Dawkins, for example, has declared: “We have no general reason to think that non-human animals feel pain less acutely than we do.” This, Dawkins says, should change our cultural habits. Practices such as branding cattle, castration without anaesthetic and bullfighting, for instance, “should be treated as morally equivalent to doing the same thing to human beings”.