A DOMINO TOO FAR: UK GOVERNMENT TELLS ANIMAL RIGHTISTS “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH”
By: Simon Ward Date: 01/15/2012 Category: | Animal Rights vs Animal Welfare |
In return for a £100 million donation from animal rights groups, Britain’s Labour government has vowed to eliminate all animal use by humans and transform the land’s remaining pastures into yuppie bedroom communities.
In the transition period from an omnivorous to a herbivorous society, all meat will be imported, “pre-killed” to comply with the ban on live transport of animals. Lethal field sports will be phased out, with the government providing subsidies for the production of clay pigeons, barbless fishing hooks, and drags scented with synthetic fox odour. No drugs will be tested on animals in the UK, with unemployed vegans on welfare replacing beagles and rats. Controversially, however, the government will help drug companies set up temporary animal testing facilities in China as insurance against a predicted drop in vegan unemployment. “To do otherwise,” said the Home Secretary, “would be to put the health of Britons at risk.”
Satire, yes, but not in the realm of fantasy!
“We have introduced tough policies on crime, but are also resolutely in favour of a society of tolerance, without prejudice or discrimination.” Tony Blair, June 22, 2000.
Five months later, fur farming was criminalized.
For more than a century, Britain has championed the cause of animal welfare. Inevitably though, as the welfare of animals improved, so the bar of acceptable standards was raised. Today, the importance of animal welfare is a given, while champions of animal rights, though hardly mainstream, have gained the ear of government. A major milestone along this road was the takeover by animal rightists of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Lest anyone doubt that this doyen of the animal welfare establishment has changed its spots, they need only read its 1991 “Declaration of Animal Rights.”
Another milestone was the acceptance by the ruling Labour Party prior to the 1997 election of a £1 million donation from the Political Animal Lobby, a front for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, an animal rights group despite its name. Small wonder the animal rights lobby has since been demanding its pound of flesh.
In recent months, three key items on the animal rights agenda have been thrust into the spotlight: fur farming, fox hunting, and the use of animals in medical research.
Just how much would Labour give in return for £1 million? Following the failure of a private member’s bill to ban fur farming, the government stepped in with a bill of its own and used the power of its considerable majority to chop off the industry’s head. Next on the chopping block was fox hunting, but with time running out for the current parliament, it remains to be seen whether Labour has the resolve to swing the axe. Mercifully, Labour has decreed that medical research using animals must live, but animal rightists, perhaps emboldened by this soft-touch government, are hell-bent on killing it off anyway.
Honoring one of its pre-election pledges, Labour forced through the Fur Farming (Prohibition) Act last November despite spirited opposition from the Conservatives. From 2003, it will be illegal in England and Wales to farm animals primarily for the value of their pelts.
Simple though that sounds, the law is fraught with problems. First there is the dangerous precedent set by the Act’s justification. Unable to pursue a ban on animal welfare grounds (which would have fallen foul of European law), Labour opted instead to criminalize a legitimate activity on the spurious grounds of “public morality”2 – which may yet be found to contravene European law, should anyone mount a challenge.
Another problem is in its application. Although the Act is clearly aimed at Britain’s 13 mink farms, it effectively criminalizes a sheep farmer who happens to earn more from the sale of pelts than from meat and wool. Then there is the question of consistency. Why, if it is immoral to farm fur, will it still be moral to buy, sell and wear it, and even to produce it from trapped and hunted animals?
But the real issue, of course, was that Labour had to throw someone, anyone, to the lions to appease the baying animal rightists, and the fur farmers would squeal the least. Only 11 farmers would be affected, and they had already indicated that after years of harassment by animal rightists, they were ready to throw in the towel in return for compensation. As for the 150 people who would lose their jobs, well, they wouldn’t even register as a blip on the unemployment chart.
However, the gravity of Labour’s conduct did not escape the fur industry. “[W]hat is immoral ... is the idea that the animal rights groups can impose their views on people with those ideas being dominant over all others,” said the International Fur Trade Federation. “That is what the British government has effectively done.”
“It’s all about political correctness,” said Mike Cobbledick, Britain’s largest fur farmer.3
If there is a silver lining to this cloud, it is that Labour may yet end up with a bloody nose. The act allows for the 11 farmers to receive compensation, and the government may have seriously underestimated the cost. Labour reportedly hoped to get away with paying £1.5 million total4, but Cobbledick alone has had the cost of closing his farm valued at £6 million, and all the farmers combined are said to be looking for £10 million. Will IFAW cover the shortfall? No chance.
But of course, IFAW et al. were looking for more from Labour than simply banning a few fur farmers. The jewel in the crown for Britain’s animal rightists has long been hunting with dogs – primarily fox hunting, but also stag, hare and even mink hunting. This is a bitterly divisive issue in Britain, pitting town against country, and the haves against the have nots.
Fox hunting, say opponents, is a barbaric sport conducted by toffs in red coats, that should go the same way as bull- and bear-baiting, banned as long ago as 1835. They also point to opinion polls indicating that most Britons favor a ban.
Not so, say supporters. Fox hunting is more than recreation. Fox populations need managing just like any other wildlife, while deer and hare hunting play an important role in conserving healthy populations and habitat. As for the method used, hunting with hounds is no more barbaric than shooting, trapping or poisoning. Hunts bind rural communities together and provide thousands of jobs in areas where unemployment is generally above average.5 Plus, of course, a ban would be illiberal and an infringement of civil rights. Last but not least, they point to a shift in public opinion over the last decade to the point where some recent polls show a majority actually oppose a ban.
It is just because fox hunting is so divisive that no government has ever tried body and soul to ban it. Since 1979, private members’ bills dealing with coursing and hunting have been introduced at a rate of more than one a year, but they have stood little chance of success because they could not command enough parliamentary time. Only a government bill could resolve this issue once and for all, and Labour promised to give it a try. Could they deliver? On January 17, the hunting bill went before the Commons where members voted on three options for the future of hunting with dogs, submitted at the government’s invitation by three interest groups.
The Countryside Alliance, representing almost half a million members and dominated by followers of field sports, proposed independent supervision of hunts. A cross-party group of parliamentarians proposed a middle way – statutory regulation, i.e., licenses. And a consortium of animal rights groups, the League Against Cruel Sports, IFAW and the RSPCA, proposed a ban.
First they came ...
“First they came first for the mink farmers, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a mink farmer. Then they came for the research scientists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a research scientist. Then they came for the zookeepers and circus animal trainers, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a zookeeper or circus animal trainer. Then they came for the cat owners, and I didn’t speak up because I was a dog owner. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.” – By Jazmyn Concolor, National Alternative Pet Association (US), after Martin Niemoeller, German Lutheran pastor.
After much debate during which illogical exceptions were made for the hunting of rodents and rabbits and for the stalking and flushing out of deer, members voted for a ban by an overwhelming majority of 387 to 174. In forcing the vote, Labour was not actually making a final push for legislation. The bill still had to go before the more hunting-friendly House of Lords – the first time for a hunting bill ever to reach them –- where it would certainly meet some resistance despite Labour’s recent removal of more than 600 hereditary peers. (That said, while the Lords can stall a government bill for about a year, the government can reintroduce it in the next session and pass it without the Lords’ consent.)
Furthermore, Labour would not have wanted to alienate a rural electorate already disenchanted by declining social services, a farming crisis and rising unemployment ahead of an election this June. But the vote was nonetheless a serious attempt by Labour to gauge the strength of opposition beyond the confines of a friendly Commons.
And opposition there most certainly was. On March 26, the Lords had their own vote on the three options. Analysts had predicted they would reject a ban, which they did by 317 to 68, and embrace the middle way. But they rejected that too, and instead voted by 249 to 108 in favor of self-regulation, setting them on a collision course with the Commons.
As for gauging the mood of the country as a whole, an important barometer for Labour was to have been a march by the Countryside Alliance. During debate on the bill, the alliance had promised to stage the largest protest rally ever held in Britain during peacetime, and to judge from the size of their last march, they probably would have done.6 But the march is now on hold because of travel restrictions following the worst outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in 40 years.
Yet despite this setback, the mood of the alliance, if not its level of support, has been made abundantly clear.
The bill is “a direct attack on country people,” wrote Countryside Alliance president Baroness Ann Mallalieu in the Sunday Telegraph. It is “a miserable little bill which seeks to criminalise a swathe of the rural population and do nothing to improve animal welfare.”7
The march would be “not just about hunting,” she continued, “but about the freedom of people to live as they choose, provided that what they choose is not demonstrably contrary to the public interest. It will be a march against politicians who use the criminal law to impose their own values and prejudices on others. But, above all, it will be a march in favour of a pluralist society in which different ways of life and different minorities are respected even by those who disapprove of aspects of their way of living.”
If it becomes law, the bill “could turn more than 250,000 people into criminals,” she continued. “Their crime is that they do not subscribe to the culture of the metropolitan ruling elite.”
By presenting the hunting bill in the broader context of rural issues, the Countryside Alliance has had enormous success in striking a chord with people who rarely see foxes, let alone ride horses.
“There is a dangerous discontent with the political process,” wrote Mallalieu. “This is not confined to country people who are seething at the inability of those they elected to halt the disintegration of their communities and the apparent determination of some politicians to take from them things they value.
“The obvious symptoms of all this are a sense of disenfranchisement, and a disenchantment with the political process. People do not want to be subjects but citizens. They want to decide for themselves how they will live and do not want to be told by politicians – sometimes clearly dancing to the tune of animal rights pressure groups and donations to their election funds.”
The Alliance has also cultivated strong support overseas. The Federation of Associations for Country Sports in Europe, representing hunting, fishing and conservation interests on behalf of 28 nations, has offered its unqualified support. Further afield, support has come from Australia, New Zealand, and in particular North America, where the alliance has its own chapter and fox hunting is growing in popularity.
“Every single hunt in the United States is behind the London rally,” said Lt. Col. Dennis Foster, executive director of the Master of Foxhounds Association of America.8 England is “in the front line against well-organised animal rights groups. ... If hunting goes in England there could be a domino effect in every other industrialized country.”
With an election just months away, the bill will now die for lack of time, but all ears will be open for Labour’s next round of pre-election pledges. Will they promise to reintroduce the bill, or will they brush it under the carpet and hope IFAW doesn’t notice? A vain hope indeed.
Huntingdon Life Sciences
If most Britons are indifferent to the demise of fur-farming and fatigued by the interminable fox hunting debate, many today are relieved that Labour has drawn the line at sacrificing animal testing in medical research. But even its commitment to this vital industry has been belated, coming only after several lab animal suppliers were forced to close by vicious animal rights campaigns9, and Britain’s leading control research center looked like being the next domino to fall.
British researchers who use animals have long complained to government that intimidation from animal rightists combined with one of the world’s strictest regimes controlling animal testing, are stifling the country’s medical research. The impact has also been counter-productive from an animal welfare viewpoint, since drug companies now contract out much of their testing to other countries where regulations are more lax.
Further exacerbating the problem is the fact that many scientists are afraid to defend their work publicly. A recent poll by the Wellcome Trust10, the world’s largest medical research charity, of scientists working in Britain found that almost a third of those who work with animals consider the risk of attack from animal rightists to be a significant barrier to their ability to speak publicly about their work.
Small wonder many people believe animals are still used to test cosmetics in the UK, even though this was banned here in 1999.11 Now the issue of animal testing has reached a defining moment. Huntingdon Life Sciences and Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, a group which only exists to destroy HLS, are engaged in a battle royale, the outcome of which will determine the future of medical research in Britain.
Based in Cambridgeshire, HLS is one of the world’s largest contract research organizations, providing product development and safety testing services for the pharmaceutical, biotechnology and chemical industries. It is also surrounded by 10-foot fences topped with razor wire.
HLS has been a target of protests for more than two decades, but the heat was turned up in 1997 after video shot secretly at its facilities in the UK and in New Jersey showed animal abuse. Settlements followed, including a $50,000 fine in the US, but animal rightists were not about to forgive and forget. Traditional pickets of HLS facilities were mounted, but as every modern animal rights extremist knows, pickets alone don’t work. So, off came the gloves.
SHAC began by harassing and threatening workers and directors at their homes, even bombing their cars. Next they turned on HLS’s clients; on just one day this February, nearly a thousand coordinated protesters, many masked and dressed in black, attacked the facilities of six drug companies. Windows, machinery and lab equipment were smashed, and 87 arrests were made. But the most effective and disturbing of all SHAC’s tactics has been the terrorizing of HLS’s financial backers, shareholders and share brokers.
So effective has SHAC been in persuading them to sever their ties that HLS’s share value has plummeted from about 113p in 1997 to 5p or so today.
Only in Britain?
With some 230 foxhunts, hunting with hounds is often viewed as a peculiarly British pastime. Not so. In Europe, France supports some 400 packs of hounds, hunting deer, boar, rabbit, fox and hare; Eire has over 90 packs of fox, harrier, mink and staghounds. Portugal has packs of hare and foxhounds; and hunting with packs of hounds is pursued in Flemish Belgium, Holland, Italy and Spain. Dogs are also used, both singly and in multiples of couples, to bring game to bay in Austria, Germany and Scandinavia. Only two European Community members have bans on the use of dogs for hunting: Hitler banned hunting with packs in Germany in 1936, and all hunting with hounds was banned in Walloon Belgium from July last year.
Fox hunting is also enjoyed in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and throughout the US. The US currently has 171 “foxhunts” (some actually hunt coyotes, which have displaced foxes from many areas). About 20,000 Americans ride to hounds, while tens of thousands more take part in “night hunting” for foxes and coyotes on foot with packs of hounds.
This January, HLS narrowly avoided bankruptcy after its main lender, the Royal Bank of Scotland, decided it had had enough of vandals filling its cash machines with glue. The bank declined to extend a £23 million loan, and HLS would have gone into receivership if its largest shareholder, US investment bankers Stephens Group, had not taken over the loan.
Inevitably, Stephens was added to the list of targets with a new stateside campaign of nastiness being coordinated by In Defense of Animals. “We will destroy them,” said a SHAC spokesman of Stephens. “They will come to rue the day they had anything to do with Huntingdon Life Sciences.”12
Back in Britain, Home Secretary Jack Straw called the financial community “cowardly” for deserting HLS. “[T]hey have wider social and business responsibilities,” he told parliament. Giving into intimidation “undermines those who are in the frontline of this important research.”13
Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee was blunter. “The cowardice is breathtaking,” she wrote.14 “At the first whiff of gunpowder the captains of industry, the big banks, stock brokers, financiers, pharmaceutical companies and even cancer research charities turned tail and fled. ... The vigilante terror campaign of the animal rights lunatics has all but silenced the voice of reason.”
But some captains of industry see things differently. On March 28, the last two remaining brokers handling HLS shares stepped down as market makers after protesters began targeting their homes. “One director returned to his home on Sunday and found 60 protesters there,” explained a senior executive. “His kids were in tears. His wife was terrified.”15
“It is all right for us to be brave, but different for our wives and kids,” he said. “We feel bad about abandoning [HLS]. It is an abhorrence that a minority should dictate to the majority. But the government should have done more. Smart comments from the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, are not the answer. To accuse the City of moral cowardice is easy when you have 24-hour protection.”
Meanwhile, the government’s inability to contain SHAC has left taxpayers with a substantial bill. As of early January, the extra cost to law enforcement of policing SHAC had reached £2.6 million,(16) and the government gave them an extra £1 million just to carry on. The courts, meanwhile, have been burdened with more than 170 cases arising out of the SHAC campaign.
Getting tough at last
Whether or not Labour continues to mollycoddle the moderate animal rights element, the nature of the SHAC campaign has at last forced it to clamp down on extremists. Although not crafted for this purpose, the new Terrorism Act 200017 that went into force this February is worth a mention. The main purpose of this act is to prevent political exiles from using Britain as a base for terrorist operations against foreign governments. But its broad definition of terrorism and the wide powers of arrest and asset seizure it gives police could be used against groups such as SHAC.
More significant are amendments just added to the Criminal Justice and Police Bill now moving through Parliament18, which have come as a direct response to SHAC. One amendment gives police greater power to criminalize small, relatively orderly protests outside people’s homes if they are likely to cause harassment, alarm and distress to the residents. Another would make the sending of hate mail an imprisonable offence and clarify existing law so that hate mail specifically includes e-mail and cell phone text messages in addition to conventional letters.
While the new measures are welcome, the Research Defence Society, representing scientists involved in animal research, says they don’t go far enough.
“The current proposals are half measures which will not prevent the vicious intimidation, harassment and violence that scientists have been subjected to,” said executive director Dr. Mark Matfield. “We are calling for new laws to stop the organisation of these vicious campaigns in their tracks.”19
The RDS’s concerns are well founded. On February 23, just a day after the amendments were announced, HLS managing director Brian Cass was viciously beaten outside his home by masked, bat-wielding thugs, suffering a three-inch gash in his scalp.
Many others, while applauding the measures, have asked why they have been so long in coming. If Labour is serious about protecting the freedoms of ordinary people, why did fur farmers and lab animal suppliers – also victims of animal rights terrorism – never receive the same protection? Or fox huntsmen, who routinely fend off hordes of rabid hunt saboteurs?
The answer is all too apparent in government rhetoric announcing the latest measures.
“We simply will not tolerate the criminal actions of a small number of extremists who use violence and intimidation to stop people going about their legitimate business,” said Straw. So far so good, but to which “people” is he referring?
“The government is committed to ensuring that animal experiments only take place where absolutely necessary, and has done a great deal to minimise testing on animals,” he continued. “This type of research saves lives and treats the illnesses of millions of people – the people conducting it must be able to go about their work free from the fear of violence or intimidation.”
OK, those people.
In actuality, the amendments to the Criminal Justice and Police Bill protect everyone; no special mention is made of the research community. But the intent behind the measures is clear.
“Fur farmers, fox huntsmen and their ilk be damned,” Straw might as well have said. “We shall sacrifice them on the chopping block of political expedience. But medical research is important and must be saved!”
The British public should be grateful for this small mercy, especially when their time comes for life-saving surgery or medication. But if Labour had not jumped so gleefully into bed with IFAW et al. in the first place, this debacle might never have come about.
* Last November, Britain's animal lovers were "outraged" after the Queen was photographed wringing the neck of a wounded pheasant during a shooting party - with her "bare hands"!
"It is no great surprise," said John Bryant of the anti-hunt group Protect Our Wild Animals to the Press Association. "The Royal Family has been steeped in slaughtering animals for entertainment as long as there has been a Royal Family. It is a horrific example of the brutality and callousness of slaughtering foreign birds for entertainment." (The relevance of the pheasant being an introduced, or "foreign," species was not explained.) On her next visit to church, the Queen arrived in a red hat with what appeared to be pheasant feathers fastened to it!
* This January, Londoners went to war over the hordes of pigeons that bombard visitors to Trafalgar Square. Some people, such as London Mayor Ken Livingstone, call them "rats with wings," spreading disease and defecating indiscriminately - which is why Livingstone banned the square's only seller of pigeon food. But pigeon-lovers mounted a defiant "feed-in" in the square, and the ban was temporarily revoked.
About The Author
All Authors Of This Article: | Simon Ward |