Major Tory donors have written to the Prime Minister to express their concern over a bill which would recognise that animals feel pain.
The Government is facing a rebellion over the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill amid concerns among some Tories that it could be ‘hijacked’ by animal rights campaigners.
Some fear it could be a Trojan Horse for eco-zealots and affect farming, fishing, hunting, angling and horse racing.
The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill currently applies only to vertebrates – animals with backbones – but could be expanded to include invertebrates, such as lobsters
The letter outlines fears the bill could be used by activists looking to ban kosher and halal slaughter, game shooting, killing vermin on farms and testing medical products on animals.
If it is passed, the bill will explicitly recognise in law for the first time that animals are ‘sentient’, a term defined as ‘having the capacity to experience feelings and sensations’.
Currently it will apply only to vertebrates – animals with backbones – but it could be expanded to include invertebrates, such as lobsters and octopuses.
Pressure from campaigners including the Boris Johnson’s wife Carrie led to renewed calls for invertebrates to get the same protection.
Billionaire Lord Spencer of Alresford, who has donated about £5million to the Conservatives, is among the signatories and said the bill was ‘poorly drafted’, according to The Times.
Another significant donor, Peter Hargreaves, did not sign the letter but shared his concerns about the legislation.
He said: ‘I would be concerned if I was a farmer with any crops susceptible to fauna.
‘Any legislation in this area must be sensitive to ensuring the country continues to have a successful agricultural industry.’
Earlier this month MPs were reassured that the UK fishing industry has nothing to fear from the new laws.
‘Only a few small changes’ will be needed, an RSPCA scientific adviser told a Commons panel to prevent British fishing vessels inflicting unnecessary pain to crustaceans and molluscs.
But major changes were needed on land, however, as boiling lobsters alive for two to three minutes was ‘gratuitous’ and ‘barbaric’ according to a scientific advisor to the government.
In further comments, the adviser told MPs that ‘sentience’ – the capacity to feel pleasure and pain – should be extended to animals not currently considered – including king prawns, the favourite centrepiece of many an Indian curry.
The letter outlines fears the bill could be used by activists looking to ban activities like game shooting
Jonathan Birch, Associate Professor, Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science, London School of Economics (LSE) has been asked to draw up a review of evidence on whether crustaceans and molluscs should be treated as ‘sentient’ by the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Professor Birch, was asked whether the new bill would result in ‘a fishing industry that is non-existent’ as it would be impossible to harvest seafood without causing pain, by Sheryll Murray MP, for South East Cornwall.
Professor Birch said: ‘Some of the ways decapods are slaughtered are just extreme methods that are gratuitous.
‘I think throwing an animal into a pot of boiling water is gratuitous when there are ways to kill it much more quickly and professionally and I think it would be entirely proportionate to look for ways to eliminate that gratuitous infliction of suffering.
‘When you are talking about what’s happening on fishing vessels, the measures have to be constrained by what is feasible to implement on those vessels.’
He said that a boiled lobster took two to three minutes to die, and this could be shortened to just ten seconds in the hands of a skilled chef.
RSPCA’s Head of Animals in Science, Penny Hawkins, ‘With respect to what happens on fishing vessels, it’s my understanding that actually amongst fishers, there’s a pretty good awareness they have to take care of the animals in order to land a viable catch.’
‘It’s my understanding that probably a few small changes in practice that would enable them to comply with requirements with regard to welfare.’