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Archive for February, 2018

Political posturing

It certainly wasn’t a very informative discussion on the BBC’s Daily Politics programme last week.

The Labour Party had just produced its new 50 point plan for animal welfare, following in the steps of the government’s Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) Bill. While there are definitely good measures in both, there are also reasons to be concerned. The government bill contains some ill-defined wording that could lead to unintended consequences and legal challenges by some groups. The Labour Party document, as usual, sets its sights on hunting and shooting, as if they were the very worst things that wildlife faces.

Animal welfare or animal rights? MPs Sir David Amess and Luke Pollard appear unsure on the BBC’s Daily Politics.

Therefore the sight of Conservative Sir David Amess and Labour’s Luke Pollard trying to score points off each while debating issues that neither appeared to really understand was not edifying. It does, however, provide an insight into the thinking of some of today’s politicians, who are more concerned about saying what they think is popular, rather than explaining how complex issues can be sensibly resolved.

No doubt Sir David and Mr Pollard are both aware that most people have nothing to do with hunting (and probably don’t like it), so opposing the activity is a comfortable position to hold. The same applies to the badger cull. What was glaringly missing from these two anti-hunting, anti-culling politicians was any hint of the consequences of their ‘animal welfare’ stances. There was no mention, let alone consideration as to what is now happening to wildlife as a direct result of the hunting ban – fox numbers fallen by one third, thousands of hares shot out after outlawing coursing and deer herds in the West Country threatened by the wrong individuals being killed.

Labour’s animal welfare plan. Hunting once again is a target, though not the hunt pictured…as UK hounds do not wear collars.

Not a word either about the suffering of TB infected badgers taking months to die and this quite apart from the tens of thousands of cattle slaughtered and the cost to the public purse. But then these are ‘animal welfare’ concerns – not something that tends to bother animal rightists in their pursuit to achieve a kind of animal utopia.

Unfortunately, it seems that this is the direction in which some politicians are heading too.

Look at the phrases used by Labour in its new plan, “Labour is the party of animal welfare” and then later in the same document, “Labour has always lead the way on animal rights”. There appears to be no understanding of the difference.

There is a clear distinction between ‘animal welfare’ and ‘animal rights’ and confusing the two can be particularly counter-productive in some areas. Many in the hunting, shooting, falconry and fishing world fully understand this and rightly argue against the destructive nature of an animal rights ‘philosophy’ being put into practice, which now leans towards opposing any form of wildlife management. A good example of mismanagement is the League Against Cruel Sports’ Baronsdown ‘sanctuary’, which was responsible for a massive outbreak of bovine TB in deer.

The difficulty arises when the fight against this flawed thinking begins to obscure a genuine debate about what we should and shouldn’t do to animals. The situation isn’t helped by a news media that can’t distinguish between the two and often broadcasts a welfare matter as being undertaken by “animal rights activists”.

No argument about ‘culture’ or ‘neo-colonialism’ can justify the vile dog meat trade.

It’s understandable why many in the field sports world feel suspicious of animal groups who seek to make changes to hunting or shooting and for very good reason. Often ‘change’ means ‘ban’ in the language of the animal rightist, but not all campaigns should be seen in that light. There is a danger if genuine animal welfare measures are resisted; the public and some politicians, both of whom are often unfamiliar with certain activities, will be likely to side with the whatever cause is being advocated for animals if they are forced to make a simplistic choice. To see things in such ‘black and white’ terms is precisely what the animal rightists want.

Yet talk to most people who hunt, or indeed anyone involved in field sports, and they clearly do care about animal welfare and strongly refute the accusation that they are ‘killing for fun’. They correctly cite evidence that often convinces those members of the public who are prepared to listen with an open mind and they can point to the major problems that occur when wildlife is not managed in a responsible way. It then becomes clearer to understand the argument for the use of scenting hounds in the wildlife management process.

Can this ever be regarded as natural?

Hunting rules say that the quarry species are hunted in their wild and natural state, but how would anyone be able to convince the public that a tiger would naturally jump through a fire hoop in a circus? That a horse would be happy to have a tiger and lion riding on its back? That the worst extremes of factory farming are acceptable just because they produce cheap food? That excuses relying on so-called ‘culture’ or spurious claims of ‘neo-colonialism’ justify the sheer brutality of the way in which millions of dogs are bred, kept, transported and finally killed for the dog meat trade in some countries. That keeping wild animals in a manner that could not possibly allow them to display their natural behaviour, such as in a fur farm, is natural?

For these reasons, it is a major error to write-off every animal welfare campaign, as if somehow they are all based on furthering the animal rights cause – not all are. And seeing field sports supporters vacating that genuine animal welfare ground is precisely what opponents wish, resulting in a real disservice to the argument for proper wildlife management.

Thankfully, that old view has significantly diminished over the years, as can be seen by the Countryside Alliance Awards scheme that recognises good welfare-minded businesses, effectively breaking down the artificial barriers between those who ‘love animals’ and those who ‘kill animals for fun’.

It’s a pity certain politicians of all parties can’t put aside for a moment their desire to appear more popular and be more discerning about what is and what is not an authentic animal welfare measure. That is, after all, the role of an MP, who should be aware that sometimes well-intentioned proposals may be less beneficial to animal welfare and more aligned with a flawed animal rights agenda. Politicians should understand that welfare in wild animal populations is a complex matter and consider a bit more carefully the very necessary benefits, including animal welfare, brought about by responsible field sports.

That’s not always easy in a world influenced so much by social media, but a good starting point would be the excellent series of essays by wildlife experts published by the Countryside Alliance in its document Wildlife Law – The Big Conversation (see:  http://www.countryside-alliance.org/wildlife-law/ )

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