MPs have voted to reject the inclusion of animal sentience into the EU Withdrawal Bill.
The vote came after Green MP Caroline Lucas submitted an amendment clause (NC30) into the Brexit Bill, which would have transferred the EU Protocol on animal sentience, or respect and care, set out in Article 13 of Title II of the Lisbon Treaty into UK law. The amendment was supported by Labour MPs.
Currently the majority of animal welfare legislation in the UK comes from the EU, however, the New Clause was rejected with an 18 majority for the Government: 313 against, 295 in favour.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove was last month accused of dumping a 'cast-iron guarantee' that animals would still be regarded as 'sentient' in post-Brexit Britain.
The Government said during the debate before the vote that this clause is covered by the Animal Welfare Act 2006, a claim disputed by the RSPCA.
"It's shocking that MPs have given the thumbs down to incorporating animal sentience into post-Brexit UK law," RSPCA head of public affairs David Bowles told Farming UK.
He said that it was only domestic animals covered by the 2006 Act, and it does not cover sentience.
"In the EU, we know that the recognition of animals as sentient beings has been effective in improving animal welfare across the region," he said.
"If the UK is to achieve the Environment Secretary's objective of achieving the highest possible animal welfare post-Brexit, it must do the same."
Following the decision, Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion, said: "The decision by the Government to vote down my amendment on animal sentience really was disappointing. This change would have guaranteed animals don't become collateral damage in the Brexit negotiations - and it's a real shame it was rejected.
"I know animal lovers will be concerned by this setback, but there's still a chance the House of Lords can change the bill - and enshrine animal sentience into British law."
British Veterinary Association Senior Vice President Gudrun Ravetz added: "It is extremely concerning that a marginal majority of MPs have voted-down this seminal clause. Enshrining animal sentience in UK law would have acknowledged that we consider animals as being capable of feelings such as pain and contentment and, so, deserving of consideration and respect. It is a founding principle of animal welfare science, and for the way that we should treat all animals.
"As an animal welfare-led profession, BVA has been calling on government to at least maintain current standards of animal health and welfare and public health. Yet actions speak louder than words, and this action undermines the Government's previous promises that the UK will continue to be known for our high standards of animal health and welfare post-Brexit.
"There is now an urgent need for clarity from Government on how the provisions in Article 13 will be enshrined in UK law to ensure we do not fall short of the high standards we expect as a nation of animal lovers."
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