The Coalition Government Attacks Animal Welfare Legislation

The ConDem Government has mounted a major assault on animal welfare legislation. Spearheaded by Agriculture Minister James Paice, who owns a farm in Cambridgeshire, they have initiated a series of secretive moves that will scrap or compromise many laws relating to animal welfare, some of which have yet to come into force.

Legislation on de-beaking hens is likely to be delayed indefinitely, allowing the practice of removing part of a chicken’s beak to continue. This is done to control feather plucking in crowded conditions; feather plucking in birds is a sign of stress. The RSPCA described the practice as “an insult to hens’ welfare.”

The use of battery cages was due to be banned across the EU from 2012, but despite having had 10 years to prepare for the ban, the industry is lobbying hard to indefinitely postpone the enforcement date. The Government is attempting to alter the European legislation to allow the sale of battery eggs within the country of origin. They also plan to scrap a law to ban keeping game birds, reared for so-called sport, in small breeding cages outside, in which they have little room to move. Animal Aid’s campaign manager Kate Fowler said: “The Coalition Government has wasted no time in removing a raft of popular measures that provided important protection for farmed and wild animals.”

The Department of the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has quietly dropped a series of charges against abattoir operators for animal cruelty. Footage, caught by  Animal Aid, showed abattoir workers kicking cattle, pigs and sheep, but DEFRA said that such evidence would not hold up in court as it was obtained by trespassing. Tim Smith, head of the Food Standards Agency, which enforces slaughterhouse standards, said, “the cruelty on show is the worst I have seen.”

DEFRA has also postponed a ban on using wild animals in circuses, preferring instead to negotiate ‘self regulation’ for the industry. There are currently some 40 tigers, elephants, zebras, and other animals forced to do tricks for circuses in the UK. The ban was first put forward by Labour minister Jim Fitzpatrick after a poll showed 95% of the public supported the idea.

Caroline Lucas MP, Vice Chair of the All Party Group on Animal Welfare and former President of the European Parliament’s cross-party Animal Welfare Intergroup, is one of 143 politicians who have now signed a parliamentary Early Day Motion (EDM) 403 calling for the wild animal ban to be implemented. She said – “There is simply no justification in the 21st century for the continued use of wild animals in circuses. I share the concerns of Animal Defense International and other animal welfare groups, that self-regulation of animal welfare in the circus industry is doomed to fail. The Government can only halt the abuse of captive animals kept for so-called ‘entertainment’ via an outright ban, which polls suggest the majority of British people support.”

Caroline has also signed EDM942 – Not In My Cuppa And Cows Belong In Fields. This is critical of the proposal to develop an American style super dairy in Lincolnshire. A factory originally designed to hold 8,000 cows, although local opposition has forced the developers to scale this down to 4,000. The concern is that with a deliberate weakening of animal welfare legislation, the condition for cattle within these factories will be no better than for battery hens or in intensive pig units. With animals kept under stress and in such close proximity, disease will always be a high risk. In the event of an epidemic, of course the taxpayer will bail out the farmers who have willfully neglected the welfare of their animals. One such disease of cattle that results from poor husbandry in crowded conditions is bovine TB.

Farmers like to blame badgers for TB, and they have successfully lobbied the farmer-minister to continue with the annual cull of badgers, a protected species.  80% of bovine TB transmission is from cattle to cattle. Even if the cull made badgers extinct in the UK, TB would remain a major cattle disease. Culling breaks up stable badger communities, displaced animals enter new areas, so spreading the disease. Badgers are a scapegoat for poor husbandry, and sadly, some people like hunting and killing them – they think it a manly sport. These people have the ear of the Minister of Agriculture.

As indeed do those who enjoy chasing and killing foxes. The Conservative Party has said that it will overturn the hunting ban.

All of this is being done in the name of ‘cutting red tape’, scaling back Government and ‘letting business get on with business’. Unfortunately, agri-buisness has little regard for animal welfare; animals are nothing more than ‘products’. Wild animals are there for our benefit, to use as we see fit, to destroy if they threaten profits. To the country landowners, concern for their welfare is sentimentality, the preserve of woolly-minded liberalism.

Greens beg to differ. The way we treat animals says much about our society, just as the way a person treats animals says much about that person. Ghandi said – “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

Cruelty should neither be tolerated nor treated lightly. Consider the words of humanitarian Dr. Albert Schweitzer: “Anyone who has accustomed himself to regard the life of any living creature as worthless is in danger of arriving also at the idea of worthless human lives.” Do we see parallels between this rolling back on animal protection legislation and the growing disregard for the welfare of the most vulnerable in society?”

There is growing evidence that cruelty is an indicator of deeper psychological disorders. According to Robert K. Ressler, who developed profiles of serial killers for the FBI, “Murderers … very often start out by killing and torturing animals as kids.” In fact, the American Psychiatric Association considers animal cruelty one of the diagnostic criteria of conduct disorder. FBI Supervisory Special Agent Allen Brantley takes the view that “animal cruelty… is not a harmless venting of emotion in a healthy individual; this is a warning sign…”

To quote Albert Schweitzer again – “We must fight against the spirit of unconscious cruelty with which we treat the animals.  Animals suffer as much as we do.  True humanity does not allow us to impose such sufferings on them.  It is our duty to make the whole world recognize it.  Until we extend our circle of compassion to all living things, humanity will not find peace.”

Cruelty, and the toleration of cruelty, be it in the name of profit, sport or ideology, should not be accepted. As St. Francis of Assisi recognised – “If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.”

For more information on campaigns against animal cruelty visit:

The League against Cruel Sports – www.league.org.uk

The Badger Protection League – www.badgerprotectionleague.com.

Compassion in World Farming – http://www.ciwf.org.uk

[Mike Shipley 5 December 2010]



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