Sometimes we imagine that our concern for the wellbeing of other species is very modern, but in 1783—nearly a quarter of a millennium ago—a young ploughboy, Rabbie Burns, Scotland’s bard, who was born in my constituency, wrote of the feelings of animals in his famous poems “To a Mouse”, “On Glenriddell’s Fox Breaking His Chain” and many others, clearly displaying his understanding that animals have feelings and suffer pain. By 2021, we have so much evidence of animal sentience that we must reconsider all our behaviour towards them.
In my short time as an MP, I have found myself writing to Ministers and speaking in the House, urging them to act on a wide range of animal welfare-related matters, including the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill, an end to lab testing with animals, stiffer penalties for cruelty to animals, a ban on the use of cages, traps and puppy farms, and of course an end to the fur trade. As the RSPCA put it:
“Evidence from multiple scientific studies has helped us to understand that a wide range of animals are sentient beings. This means they have the capacity to experience positive and negative feelings such as pleasure, joy, pain and distress that matter to the individual.”
As many as 2,500 scientific studies have proven the existence of animal sentience across a dizzying array of species. To put it simply, like us they know what it is to experience the horror of what we do to them, to live in agonising fear of it and—if they survive—to have to live with the memory of it.
The fur trade also means terror for sentient creatures. As one of my constituents put it to me:
“I don’t wear fur because I think it’s cruel. Every year around the world millions of animals are kept in small wire cages or caught in metal leghold traps before being brutally killed, all for a product no one needs, a frivolous piece of fur trim. The practice of keeping and rearing animals in cages unfit for purpose and to kill them for their fur for profit is barbaric, cruel and inhumane and for any country to condone and allow such fur to be imported and sold is equally as barbaric.”
The message is clear; the call for evidence is complete. A total ban on fur imports and sales is required, and it is required now.