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New Zealand Leads in Animal Welfare Reform. Europe Follows

Updated: Mar 18, 2020

Writer Ellie Chivers Takes a Look at the Global Shift in Animal Welfare Policies.

Photo by Christopher Burns

In 2015, New Zealand set the standard for animal rights globally. The passing of their Animal Welfare Amendment Bill was cause for celebration amongst activists everywhere, as the momentous move finally recognised the sentience of all animals, as opposed to only chimpanzees, orangutans and dolphins.

The bill also banned animal testing and research in the country, as well as giving clearer guidelines on how to prosecute animal cruelty. It truly was a breakthrough. But, 5 years on from that ground-breaking bill, we take a look at sentient recognition globally.

Animal sentience is still not wholly recognised in North America as they are still considered “objects” by law. While there have been backtracks this decade for animal rights in North America since NZ’s Welfare Amendment Bill passed, there have been changes for the better elsewhere in the fight for animal rights.

For example, SeaWorld announced the ending of it’s orca shows and breeding programmes, following backlash from the ‘Blackfish’ documentary, which showcased the mistreatment of the killer whales kept there.

This year, California became the first state to ban the sale and manufacturing of new fur items, while cat declawing has also been banned in New York state.


According to an article in the House of Commons library, published in July this year, “the sentience of animals will continue to be recognised and protections strengthened when we leave the EU.”

The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill, published in June, also increases the maximum sentence for those prosecuted for animal cruelty. Additionally, in 2018, Brussel’s parliament voted to recognise animals asliving being[s] endowed with sensitivity, interests of its own and dignity, that benefits from special protection.” Also in this year, Slovakia redefined animals as living beings.

Elsewhere in Europe, Pope Francis stated that animal testing should only be an option when “it remains within reasonable limits [and] contributes to caring for or saving human lives.” Meanwhile, this year Switzerland’s proposal to ban factory farming was met with 100,000 signatures, which enforced a nationwide ballot.


In China, there is no outright legislation the recognises animal sentience, but various articles and bills outline humane treatment of animals and promote practices that minimise their suffering. That being said, cosmetics that are sold in China are still required to be tested on animals before being sold to the public. Similarly, Japan does not recognise sentience, but acknowledges suffering.

Further developments have been made elsewhere in the continent; in 2017, one of Thailand’s biggest meat producers promising to phase out gestation and farrowing crates by 2027, improving the welfare of 250,000 pigs. Even before NZ’s bill, India became the first Asian country to ban animal testing, announcing the scrap plans in 2014.

South America

In the case of South America, the suffering of animals is largely recognised, while the sentience of animals is noted in Chile. In Chile, animal cruelty can be punished by a maximum of a 3-year jail sentence. No significant animal rights movements have taken place between NZ’s bill to now here, however.


Sadly, in Africa, countries either only recognise animal suffering, or do not recognise suffering or sentience at all. Only in Tanzania is there a difference, with the mental health of animals being acknowledged. Here, suffering is recognised and there are laws against animal cruelty, though they have not been enforced since the NZ bill.

Some landmark changes have been made since New Zealand’s historic bill set the precedent for animal welfare, with Europe leading the way in making changes for the better in regard to animal sentience since.

It is clear that momentum is building for global reform and lets hope more countries will follow in the years to come.


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