Posts tagged DEFRA

Wake up, Lembit!

On Wednesday last week – with only a few hours of parliamentary time remaining – the Liberal Democrat PPC and ‘Middle Way Group’ chairman, Lembit Öpik, tabled an Early Day Motion on the rearing of game birds. It says:

“That this House notes the Code of Practice for the Welfare of Gamebirds Reared for Sporting Purposes as laid before the House on 15 March 2010; believes that the guidelines in the Code are at variance with the three options which formed part of the consultation on the draft Code prior to its submission to the House; further believes that this incomprehensible and unilateral change to the Code invalidates the consultation process and significantly undermines the quality of the Code particularly in regard to guidelines on cages; and calls on the Government to withdraw the Code and to reformulate it in line with the feedback from experts and practitioners in the rearing of gamebirds.”

The purpose of an Early Day Motion is to get signatures, which is difficult in the extreme when you publish your EDM just hours before parliament ends. But the most bizarre consideration is that it’s taken Lembit almost a month from publication of the Code of Practice to get the EDM laid. Where has he been for the last month?

Some might wonder what his motivation is. That’s easy. His Montgomeryshire constituency includes the Bettws Farm game empire, recently the subject of a League exposé.

PS: The website for the Muddled Way Group; sorry, ‘Middle Way Group’ appears to have disappeared. Let’s hope the Group has disappeared too.

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Game bird welfare

This week’s note from Douglas Batchelor, Chief Executive.

Governments move in mysterious ways sometimes. This week it was the result of the game bird welfare consultation. The Government decided, a decision that we agree with, that the conditions under which game birds were being bred and reared led to poor bird welfare.

DEFRA acting on behalf of the Government took a similar approach to that taken with battery bred poultry. Rather than ban the use of cages all together it simply decided to radically increase the amount of space per bird. The shooters were somewhat predictably up in arms about the changes which come in on 1 October because they will make this 2010 to 2011 season the last in which such intensive rearing methods can be used in England and Wales.

The Countryside Alliance fulminated about the changes and even suggested that no change would be necessary if bits were used to prevent the birds kept in intensive conditions from seeing one and other. Seemingly they were as blind to the welfare and normal behaviour needs of the birds, as the birds which they would prefer were restricted in vision in their intensive rearing conditions.

The shooters claim to be concerned about the loss of trade to France where such restrictions on cage size do not currently apply. Their problem is that because they market game meat as the next best thing to organic free range poultry production they can hardly compete with imports by using a slogan like, intensively reared in France but killed for sport in England. Not a good seller!

There has been some shocking news coverage of late about the working conditions in abattoirs and meat plants. None of the coverage that I saw picked up on what I would have thought was the most obvious point of all. Namely that if people are called on to work with animal carcasses day after day, some so freshly killed that they are still warm and the carcasses can still twitch spasmodically, the only way that they can cope is to shut down normal human sensitivity. As a result behavioural norms are also shut down and abuse and cruelty can become common place.

Traditional hunting with its chase and kill by dogs is no less of a slaughter process than an abattoir or a meat plant, but because it has been ritualised and turned into a blood sport, people often fail to recognise the bloody business that it really is. In both cases an animal is entered into the system at one end and a disembodied carcass emerges at the other end. Daily exposure to such suffering and killing surely must coarsen and desensitise the hunters to the suffering of the hunted.

What distinguishes an abattoir from a traditional hunt is that there are inspections and licensing regimes; that procedures are put in place to minimise animal suffering and that if there is gratuitous cruelty, or the licensing conditions are not adhered to, people are sacked and plants are closed down. Yet what all the recent coverage has told us is that regulations are flouted, cruelty and suffering is rife and the people in the plants are exhibiting abnormal and unacceptable behaviour patterns, perhaps as a result.

In hunts where no such regulations apply to the hunters’ treatment of wild mammals for sport, cruelty abounds. Animals are deliberately chased with packs of dogs to provide a spectacle and sport for a paying crowd of followers.

Hunting for sport is nothing less than the commercialisation of animal suffering. It is no wonder that some of those closely involved in the ritualised and serial abuse of animals with dogs for sport, lose the plot and themselves become violent and abusive, to both people and animals.

There has been a steady procession of thugs associated with hunts to court and a stream of convictions for violence, abuse, harassment, dangerous driving and a host of other crimes. It is no secret that some of our best tip offs about illegal hunt activity come from the people who live with or near to these damaged animal abusers, but who are too scared of them and or of what they might do to them and their families, to take them on themselves. There is a deep ugliness about the tendency to violence that goes with animal abuse for sport. If causing such suffering is supposedly acceptable as entertainment, what sort of violence and abuse is actually off limits?

The live quarry hunters and shooters like to see themselves as reasonable people called upon to deal with problem animals in a way that it just so happens gives them pleasure. The truth is that the rest of society sees them as ritual and serial animal abusers and experiences them as all too often being violent and abusive to members of the public.

If a vigilante gang in any town decided to hunt in the parks with packs of attack dogs and kill all the pet dogs not on leads, because un-scooped poop was perceived to be a problem, and the gang enjoyed their pet dog control work, there would be complete uproar. Yet in the countryside we are supposed to allow gangs of wildlife vigilantes with attack dogs to roam far and free persecuting the nation’s wildlife for their own sport and recreation.

I have no doubt that the urban gang leader with a dog pack would soon be called the master and the man in charge of the pack would be called the huntsman. It would fast become a sport for so called bloods. No doubt others with whips and horns would don the appropriate jackets and trainers for the gang, expensive off road bikes would be bought and there would soon be a strict code of behaviour. Each gang would have its own hunting turf and woe betide anyone who sought to hunt there without their permission. Anyone seeking to monitor the activities of such a hunt would themselves become a target and violence would ensue.

The Hunting Act isn’t about toffs on horseback, it is all about gangs of thugs with attack dogs. Be they packs of Pit Bulls, Rottweilers or of supposedly well bred hounds, Greyhounds or even Jack Russell terriers, taught to fight foxes and badgers. The hunters and coursers who turn their dogs onto animals for their own sport are no different to the urban gangs described above. Cruelty is cruelty whether you drive a 4×4 to the meet or ride a BMX. Setting a dog or worse still a pack of dogs onto another animal for sport is cruel, whether it takes place in a public park in town or on a private estate in the countryside.

Allowing a repeal of the Hunting Act would open the door to thugs with packs of dogs, be they in the town or the countryside. Please do all that you can to help us Keep Cruelty History.

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Government ‘courageous’ for banning cages for game birds

The League has welcomed the government’s decision to effectively ban the use of raised cages for the rearing of game birds, describing the move as ‘courageous’.

The League Against Cruel Sports said that the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) had come up against strong opposition to the move, which outlaws the use of cages for the rearing of pheasants and partridges. Defra also considered the use of ‘enriched’ cages where birds are provided with more space.

Douglas Batchelor, Chief Executive of the League, said:

“We knew all along that the government and leading people in the shooting industry were keen on a ban on these awful cages used for intensive gamebird rearing, but they came up against a determined group in the multi-million pound shooting industry who appeared to care more about the money to be made from intensive rearing methods than animal welfare.

“These gamebirds were being bred and reared to be used as live targets so that people can shoot at them for sport. The public are now voting with their wallets and purses on free range chicken, but unfortunately some were still hoodwinked into thinking that game meat was all free range, extensive, wild, and natural when the truth was, that most pheasants and partridges started out life in intensive conditions much like battery reared chickens. The proposed changes will at least reduce the intensity and almost industrial nature of gamebird rearing and the suffering that results from keeping birds better suited to the wild, in captivity,” Mr Batchelor said.

A number of other organisations, including the British Association for Shooting & Conservation (BASC) and the RSPCA, also backed an outright ban.

Defra have announced that all cages must be put out of use by 1st October.

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Decision on game bird rearing due Friday

We heard yesterday that the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – DEFRA – plan to publish their long awaited regulations on game bird rearing at the end of this week.

The League, together with a host of animal welfare charities and the British Association for Shooting & Conservation (BASC), called on DEFRA to ban the use of cages for the rearing of game birds. Unsurprisingly, the Countryside Alliance and some shooters took issue with this and asked DEFRA to recommend the use of ‘enriched’ cages instead.

Late last year, we were told that DEFRA Ministers preferred the idea of the ban. We hope they’ve stuck to that preference.

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Are the Conservatives losing their nerve on hunting?

On Tuesday, Nick Herbert MP, shadow Secretary of State for Defra, spoke at the annual conference of the National Farmer’s Union in the midlands. He used that speech as an opportunity to launch the Conservative farming and agriculture policy at the next general election.

It’s interesting to note that the new policy includes nothing on hunting, despite the oft-repeated claim that hunting (as a form of pest control) is central to the livelihoods and success of farmers up and down the country. The fact that Mr Herbert is himself a hunter, and former political officer at the Countryside Alliance, makes the absence even more stark.

We wonder if the tide is changing at Conservative Party headquarters. We have never quite understood why a Party would want to push forward a policy so contrary to public opinion, and so perhaps we are seeing a silent withdrawal of the ‘commitment’ to a free vote on repeal of the Hunting Act.

We are packing our bags for our fun packed weekend at the Conservative Party Spring Forum in Brighton. We look forward to engaging Conservative PPCs and MPs on this issue and persuading them of the importance of animal welfare over dogma.

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A bad week for greyhounds

Last spring, the Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) published a public consultation document on their Draft Welfare of Racing Greyhounds Regulations.

The League was delighted to see the government taking the issue of racing greyhound welfare seriously, and we felt that proposed new regulations were a logical next step after administrative changes and the creation of the Greyhound Board of Great Britain to have a statutory role overseeing the multi-million pound greyhound racing industry.

Animal welfare charities including the League, Dog’s Trust and the RSPCA were pleased to see a full and open consultation process, and we took a semi-collaborative approach to responding. In the end well over a thousand animal welfare charities responded to the consultation.

The bitter pill in all this is that the government may just as well left those animal welfare responses in the envelope in which they arrived. Government failed to act on any of the recommedations made by animal welfare organisations. We had wasted our time and it was a punch in the guts.

Towards Christmas, the consultation over, the government published the regulations which required the approval of Parliament. They were presented to Parliament and then withdrawn, and then presented again. The House of Commons and the House of Lords both considered the regulations this week, and passed them without amendment.

Despite this all being depressing stuff, we were encouraged to see questions raised in the Lords about the problems we had flagged up. One of the key issues for us is that whilst greyhound tracks are required to keep records in relation to the dogs that race at that track, together with information on injuries and other incidents, there is no requirement to disclose those records to any external third party, thus rendering the whole record keeping process rather pointless.

Despite all this, we will continue in our campaign on greyhound racing, applying pressure to politicians and government to force this industry to pull its socks up and give a lot more consideration to the dogs that line their pockets.

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Greyhounds whitewash at Parliament

Any moment now, a House of Commons Committee is meeting to discuss the government’s Draft Welfare of Racing Greyhounds Regulations, with a view to their approval. A Lords Committee will do the same this afternoon.

Our staff are in Parliament all day to lobby against these proposals which clearly do nothing for the welfare of racing greyhounds and are, in fact, little more than a charter for gamblers and crooks. Given that, by this morning, 165 MPs had signed a Commons motion calling for debate on the matter whilst only 52 and signed in favour of the Regulations as they are, it is clear that we’re not alone in our unhappiness.

One of the key faults in the Regulations relates to record keeping. The Regulations include a requirement on the greyhound racetracks to keep accurate records of the dogs that race there, their owners, their health and welfare, and their performance. A good thing, you might think; except that the record keeping is pointless as the records are private and not available to the public! Imagine the prisons inspector being told she couldn’t actually enter a prison, and you have a similar arrangement.

We have high hopes that those MPs who claim to care for greyhound welfare – including Fabian Hamilton and Andrew Rosindell – will do something about it, and not simply wave the Regulations through.

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