Archive for April, 2013

If the journalists who covered this year’s Grand National had been horses in that race, a sizeable number would have fallen at the first fence. Why? Because they are lazy.

As so often happens with issues that are seen as controversial, many journalists go for the sensational headline grabber and that means publicising the views of those on the extreme. “We always want to embrace the RSPCA, World Horse Welfare and organisations like that, that we can have constructive dialogue with and work alongside them” said John Baker, who manages Aintree as the Jockey Club’s regional director. “That’s an impossibility with Animal Aid. They are a campaigning organisation, not a charity and they have some very extreme views.” He added, “We think Animal Aid get far too much air time from certain broadcasters… That’s just lazy journalism, dealing in extremes to see what happens and get a reaction from people instead of having a sensible and balanced debate.”

A sensible and balanced debate is the last thing many in the animal rights world want – it’s one of the major differences between animal welfare and animal rights. Yet, when every issue is reduced to a ‘ban or no ban’ option, it usually doesn’t reflect reality or prove to be helpful.

At one level, the message put out by various organisations regarding this year’s Grand National was clear –  horses shouldn’t be put at excessive risk – but at another level the call was confused precisely because the groups involved have different agendas and aims…or at least they say they do. Animal Aid wants the race banned; the RSPCA bizarrely threatened a ‘yellow card’ before the race, then gave a cautious welcome to the modifications. The League Against Cruel Sports appeared to be somewhere between the two. Yet all cosy-up to each other.

The difficulty in this debate is determining exactly what those animal groups want. How can a campaign operate when its supporters want to see the race modified and banned at the same time? Do they wish to see all horse racing banned? Indeed, do they wish any event that involves animals to be abolished?  There will be people in these groups who fall into all of these categories. So, unlike say a political debate, in which the major parties have laid out their views and policies in order that everyone knows roughly where they stand, this doesn’t happen with some animal rights campaigns. Consequently, while we know what they dislike, we don’t know what they will find acceptable. If the parameters of an argument are unknown it’s no wonder there is mistrust of such groups in many quarters.

As it turned out, Baroness Mallalieu, a supporter of World Horse Welfare and President of the Countryside Alliance, has for some time expressed her concerns about this race and I suspect that it was her voice and others like her that had just as much influence, if not more, on those race organisers who have made modifications to the Grand National.

No one denies that there are problems in the wider horse breeding world and the horse meat scandal continues, with traces of bute (which also means horse) found in a supermarket brand product just this week. One good thing that has come out of this is that a light has been shone on how meat products are produced as well as the plight of many horses both in this country and abroad.

A few weeks ago I was contacted by a former Countryside Alliance stalwart, Janet George, who spoke of her concerns about horse welfare and what steps she felt should be taken. She is now the patron of Equine Market Watch, a small charity that works to improve conditions at horse sales and also runs an equine sanctuary (http://www.emwuk.org.uk). Janet highlighted problems with the horse passport scheme, echoing issues that Baroness Mallalieu has also raised about the breeding, abuse and abandoning of equines. More on these issues later.

Two EMW residents

Two EMW residents

The point being made here, however, is that Ann Mallalieu and Janet George are both from a world that isn’t supposed to care for animals if you believe the nonsense trotted out by the animal groups mentioned earlier. Yet through their contacts and knowledge they quietly get on with the job without seeking praise, recognition and certainly without any grandstanding. Indeed, the Countryside Alliance, through its ‘Rural Oscars’ awards has probably achieved more in genuine animal welfare terms than some of the campaigning, banner-waving groups. The promotion of local butchers, where the origin of the animals is known, how they lived and where the animals concerned have not had to travel across several different countries must be a good thing. Such thinking is in line with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage pledge to seek out the provenance of the meat being bought. Even as a vegetarian, I can see that these moves must be in the interest of animal welfare, as well as being good for the local (and British) economy.

Think about what you're eating

Think about what you’re eating

So where does this leave those groups that claim animal welfare is their exclusive domain? A major part of the problem is that those in charge of these groups will never admit that they might be wrong or that those in organisations promoting different views also wish to see animal welfare improved. It leads to simplistic ‘solutions’ that are inevitably flawed, the Hunting Act being a prime example. Will the LACS ever admit that failure, even though we know they are fully aware of this law’s major defects? They see the benefit of a genuine wild mammals welfare law based on evidence instead of opinion, but realise that it would make their ridiculous Hunting Act redundant and so reject it. Will the RSPCA ever admit that it was wrong to bring the enormously expensive prosecution of the Heythrop Hunt?  They can’t even understand the criticism that followed in the national press and took the Daily Telegraph to the Press Complaints Commission for its coverage of the case.  This week that complaint was thrown out, with the RSPCA spokesman saying that the decision gave, “the green light for critical and politically motivated attacks on charities by hostile media”.  Could he not take a step back and see that the prosecution itself was a politically motivated attack, as well as being a very expensive publicity stunt?

Unfortunately, the answer to all these questions is ‘no’, because, for some in the animal rights world, publicity is obviously more important than progress.

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