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Archive for October, 2015

Hunting for the truth

All-party parliamentary groups exist at Westminster to cover a whole range of issues and subjects from cancer to cheese. They involve MPs and Peers from across the political divide and are useful forums for more detailed debate. One such group is the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare (APGAW).

APGAWWhen the Labour Party was in power and considering the introduction of a hunting bill, APGAW was chaired by a Labour MP and while certain aspects of the hunting debate, such as the re-homing of hounds, were addressed one very important piece of research was deliberately ignored. In the reams of anti-hunting literature produced by the coalition of groups determined to see a ban, little was said about the alternative methods left legal for wildlife management that would inevitably fill the vacuum. When pushed, “humane shooting” was put forward, to be undertaken by a “professional”.

Of course in reality there was absolutely no guarantee that all shooting, in particular of foxes, would always be humane and it would certainly not always be done by a “professional”. Even less clear was who would pay for these shooters. Research was commissioned by another group, the All Party Parliamentary Middle Way Group, and undertaken by the appropriately named Dr Nick Fox. Dr Fox and his team showed that wounding rates in foxes that were shot (via a range of legal weapons, ammunition, distances and abilities) were much higher than previously thought. While the study was attacked by the anti-hunting groups as well as some shooting people, the aim was never an attack on all shooting; it was to destroy the myth – created solely to justify a hunt ban – that appeared to say all hunting was bad and all shooting was good. The study was peer-reviewed and published by the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare *.  Two studies were commissioned to counter Dr Fox’s research and though their ‘conclusions’ were widely quoted in the media in an attempt to rubbish his findings, neither was validated by being peer-reviewed and published in a scientific journal.

So, back to APGAW. As hunting was obviously the most pressing animal welfare issue when the Labour Party took power in 1997, you might have thought that research into the welfare aspects of the main alternative method being advocated would have been uppermost in peoples’ minds and a top priority for debate. Not a bit of it.

Dr Nick Fox and his team found that wounding rates in shot foxes were much higher than anti hunt groups claimed

Ignored: Dr Nick Fox and his team found that wounding rates in shot foxes were much higher than anti hunt groups claimed.

Despite numerous requests to MP Ian Cawsey, the Labour Chair of APGAW at the time, and after a number of courteous replies along the lines of “We’ll see if we can get you in”, no opportunity was given to even raise the issue, let alone explain and analyse the shooting study. Literally millions of pounds have been spent in support of the Hunting Act, but not a penny spent by anti-hunt groups to assess its effect on wildlife – the consequences have simply been ignored. In the precisely the same way, any research that might have derailed the all-important campaign to ban hunting with dogs was also ignored. The 700 hours of Parliamentary time consumed to pass this law was somehow worthwhile, but a couple of hours couldn’t be found to look at research that would give an insight into the animal welfare consequences of that law.

I know that there are Labour MPs and Peers who strongly disagree with the more commonly held views held in their party on the Hunting Act and they must have a very frustrating time trying to knock some sense into the heads of their colleagues. I suspect that task will only become more difficult under Jeremy Corbyn, given that he was, and maybe still, a member of the League Against Cruel Sports. It was therefore a welcome change when the new Conservative Co-Chairs of APGAW, MPs Rebecca Pow and Henry Smith, wanted to dedicate a session to examining the Hunting Act. That event took place a few weeks ago, with two speakers on each side debating the merits of the Hunting Act. Dr Jeremy Naylor and I both criticised the Hunting Act, while David Bowles from the RSPCA and Dr Toni Shepherd from the League Against Cruel Sports spoke in its favour. A report on the meeting will be sent to DEFRA ministers and other MPs, but the minutes are available here: http://www.apgaw.org/Data/Sites/1/15th-september-2015-apgaw-minutes.pdf

Rather than pre-empt that report, which presumably will be available for public consumption at some point, it is worth noting that a parliamentary group set up specifically to address animal welfare issues has moved to a far more neutral position on hunting with dogs. Can you imagine that situation with regard to dog fighting or badger baiting, activities that antis often like to compare to hunting?

Other events this year strengthen the point that hunting with dogs and the Hunting Act are not necessarily seen by reasonable people in the way that anti-hunt groups would have us believe. Their propaganda constantly refers to the outcomes of public opinion polls that usually show a large majority against repealing the Hunting Act. Antis on social media are apoplectic with the thought that their precious law could be ditched, yet they can’t seem to understand that the country is not run via Twitter or on the findings of dodgy polls that blatantly imply repeal of the Hunting Act would legalise dog fighting and badger baiting.

Hunting with hounds; seen as necessary, natural and humane by many veterinarians.

Hunting with hounds: seen as necessary, natural and humane by many veterinarians.

It is all the more gratifying, therefore, that debates organised by student veterinarians tend to see things in a different way. A talk to the Royal Veterinary College earlier this year resulted in a very positive response – the only criticism being why such pro-hunting information is not seen more frequently! A couple of weeks ago a debate organised by students at Liverpool University’s School of Veterinary Science came down in favour of hunting with dogs. Further debates at other universities are in the pipeline.

Why would people who know and understand animals see things this way? Why is it that a parliamentary group specifically formed to address animal welfare issues does not condemn hunting? Presumably it’s because they don’t go blindly along with the unscientific and often bigoted views expressed by some groups and instead are willing to question the propaganda they produce that claims all hunting with dogs must be inherently cruel. It’s an important point worth remembering.

 

*Wounding rates in shooting foxes (Vulpes vulpes), by N.C. Fox, N. Blay, A.G. Greenwood, D.Wise, E.Potapov,  Animal Welfare, 2005, Vol 14, No 2.

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