Archive for February, 2015

The 18th February 2015 marked the 10th anniversary of the Hunting Act coming into force.

It was also the day that Shadow Environment Secretary, Maria Eagle, chose to launch the Labour Party’s general election pledges on animal welfare. The document, entitled Protecting Animals, claims, “No other major political party has such a proven track record of decisive action for animals at home, on farms and in the wild.” (see http://www.labour.org.uk/blog/entry/six-things-you-need-to-know-about-labours-plans-to-protect-animals )

There are certainly some good things here, such as addressing the problems with puppy farming, an issue the Countryside Alliance has been actively involved with in Wales. Removing wild animals from circuses would be a good step too, as forcing the larger wild animals to perform unnatural tricks in unnatural circumstances, while denying their natural behaviour cannot be right. However, the current government has stated that it supports legislation to end the practice, though that promise has not yet been fulfilled.

Labour's Protecting Animals pledges, but mainly those attracting votes

Labour’s general election pledges for animals, but mainly those issues that they think will attract votes

But then we come to hunting and the badger cull. As expected, the document pledges Labour’s support for the Hunting Act, making the bold claim that, “The hunting ban is a testament to the progress made since the days of bear baiting and other such barbaric bloodsports.”  Of course it is ridiculous to compare hunting to the baiting of any animal and what is conveniently forgotten is the fact that the baiting ‘sports’ were banned as a direct result of the work of Richard Martin MP, one of the founders of the RSPCA and a foxhunter.

There is an obvious concern amongst anti hunting groups and their political supporters that the Hunting Act may be repealed, hence the pledge to defend it. Groups that support a ban have based their opposition on the assumption that hunting with dogs must automatically be cruel and Protecting Animals follows that line without question. There has been no assessment of the Hunting Act’s effect on wildlife after 10 years by any anti hunting organisation and, at the very least, it would have been good to see a more responsible move like this included.

The impression is that the Hunting Act is a good piece of wildlife legislation because of the number of successful convictions, conveniently forgetting that the vast majority are for poaching offences. Claims that science backs a hunting ban are nothing short of lies and when anti hunt groups are asked to produce validated research, the silence is deafening. Labour’s position appears to ignore what is now happening to foxes, deer and hares and relies on poorly worded public opinion polls – indicating this policy is more about vote grabbing than genuinely improving animal welfare. If it were the latter, the excellent proposal put forward by Lord Donoughue for a wild mammals welfare law would be included in this document. The real irony here is that this comes from a Labour Peer – the party has the perfect solution, suggested and supported from within its own ranks, but Maria Eagle is too blinkered to see it.

Labour also states that the badger culls to curb bovine TB would be stopped if they win the forthcoming general election. Yet again, this document seems to be re-writing history when it says that previous culls played no meaningful part in curbing the disease. That is simply not true – every trial going back decades resulted in incidents of bovine TB being reduced to one degree or another. The party states it will work with scientists to produce a workable strategy, including vaccination, to address the disease. Yet that is what is happening now, but to imagine that diseased badgers should just be left to suffer and die without some form of culling is certainly not good for the health of the countryside or good for animal welfare. Labour’s pledge received an immediate response from NFU President, Meurig Raymond, “Labour claims no other political party has such a proven track record of decisive action for animals on farm.  If this is a pledge to protect animals, as Labour says, it must protect all animals, including the tens of thousands of cattle that are compulsorily slaughtered every year in England because of bTB.” He went on to say, “We do not consider it good animal welfare to allow a disease that is devastating farming family businesses, and for which there is no cure, to be left to spread unchecked in wildlife and create more misery.”

The Labour Party says more should be done to curb the killing of raptors on shooting estates, but when a sensible proposal is put forward, such as the Hen Harrier Joint Recovery Plan, it seems to listen more to the people who would prefer conflict, rather than working with land owners, shoot owners and gamekeepers who have to be involved if workable solutions are to be found.

Reading this document you might think that everything is fine in the farming world, yet there is no mention of the worst forms of factory farming or religious slaughter without pre-stunning. Obviously these issues are far too hot to handle, despite the fact that this aspect of the debate on animals and their welfare covers the lives of billions of animals. They have simply been ignored by the Labour Party in this document.

Rather than putting forward a sensible range of genuine welfare proposals that could improve the lives of so many animals, this document concentrates more on attacking activities Labour thinks are unpopular with the public. It’s clearly more about attracting votes than improving animal welfare. Rather than engaging with the organisations representing farming, hunting and the people who will be directly affected by such policies, those organising this launch barred the NFU and Countryside Alliance from attending. Obviously, awkward questions weren’t part of the day’s schedule.

Protecting Animals represents the true meaning of the phrase ‘the curate’s egg’, which is not, as commonly believed, something that is just partly good and partly bad. The real meaning is something that has its good content destroyed by the bad.


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