Is it “The great animal rights betrayal” or just business as usual in Britain?

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November/December 2010:
LONDON–Is the Conservative-led British coalition government
engaged in “The great animal rights betrayal,” as the newspaper The
Independent alleged on November 13, 2010? Or has the transition
from Labour to Conservative government changed nothing much, as
representatives of several leading British animal welfare
organizations told ANIMAL PEOPLE?
“In a series of little-noticed moves,” The Independent
charged, “the coalition has scrapped or stalled Labour initiatives
to improve animal welfare. Agriculture minister James Paice, who
part-owns a farm in Cambridgeshire, has been behind most of the
moves,” The Independent said. “Paice this week delayed by five years
a ban on beak mutilations of laying hens due to come into force in

“Following lobbying from the Countryside Alliance and other
shooting groups, Paice rewrote the new game-bird farming welfare
code to remove a ban on keeping them in cages. The Department of the
Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, under Paice, “halted a series
of prosecutions of abattoir operators based on secret footage which
caught workers kicking cattle, pigs, and sheep,” contending that
the prosecutions “would have failed because the footage had been
obtained by trespass.”
Mistreatment of animals was reportedly found in six of seven
slaughterhouses where operatives for Animal Aid placed hidden
cameras. Prosecutions were begun against five of the six. While the
cases were dropped, the Food Standards Agency recommended that
routine video surveillance be undertaken in all 370 slaughterhouses
in England, Scotland, and Wales. On November 18, 2010 the
Morrisons supermarket chain announced that it will only buy meat from
slaughterhouses where video surveillance is in place. Morrisons
spokesperson Martyn Fletcher told Independent consumer affairs
correspondent Martin Hickman that the video images will be stored for
30 days and made available to the Food Standards Agency.
However, The Independent noted, “the government is reducing
the presence of official veterinarians at livestock markets, to the
concern of the British Veterinary Association. According to the BVA,
Paice has also expressed doubt over plans to label kosher and halal
meat from animals killed without being stunned.”
In addition, The Independent said, “The Department of the
Environment, Food & Rural Affairs has been stalling on a ban on the
use of wild animals in circuses, which Labour indicated in March it
would introduce.
“Paice again pleased farmers and angered welfare groups by
overturning Labour’s opposition to a badger cull,” charged The
Independent, “and proposed that farmers trap or shoot the protected
mammal in order to curb the spread of bovine tuberculosis, which can
be spread by badgers. He downgraded vaccination research.
“Another Conservative proposal–to hold a free vote [in
Parliament] on overturning the ban on fox hunting–will be fiercely
opposed, The Independent noted. “Current concern, however, is
greatest about the U-turns on farm animals because of the huge
numbers involved.”

Farmed animals

Responded Compassion In World Farming chief policy advisor
Peter Stevenson, “The Conservatives, the dominant members of the
coalition government, are traditionally the farmers’ friend, yet it
would be unfair to accuse them of being any worse than Labour on the
welfare of farm animals. It would be wrong to say Paice is
insensitive to animal welfare. Oddly, the mutilation of hen beaks
is an issue on which I would give him half a tick in the box,”
Stevenson continued. “The last government announced they would ban
the practice in 2002 but failed to pressure the industry to comply.
Paice has set a timetable for a ban, something Labour refused to do.
Trimming hens’ beaks with hot blades will be banned next year; what
will continue is trimming using infrared,” though “there is some
scientific evidence that suggests infrared is just as painful. And
it still causes distress,” Stevenson said, “because their natural
behavior is to peck, which trimming prevents.
“The government believes–as did the previous
government–that farmers are not ready to prevent feather pecking and
cannibalism without beak trimming,” Stevenson elaborated to ANIMAL
PEOPLE. “Our main concern is that the regulations that remove the
ban do not set a new commencement date.” Paice “in his written
statement to the House of Commons, gave 2016 as the ‘provisional date
for the ban on routine beak trimming of laying hens,'” Stevenson
noted. “We are immensely disappointed by this delay, but it is the
previous government that is responsible for not having pushed the
industry to prepare for the ban.”
Stevenson noted that neither the current government nor the
previous government have opposed the introduction to Britain of
“U.S.-style mega-dairies in which herds numbering in the thousands
will be zero-grazed and pushed to very high milk yields.
“Cloning animals for food production has [also] become a
major issue in the U.K. and the rest of the European Union,”
Stevenson added. “Unfortunately our government has refused to
oppose cloning, but neither did the previous government.”
Explained Royal SPCA director of communications David Bowles,
“The Liberal Democrat/Conservative coalition government came to power
with a negotiated package of what was in both parties’ manifestos pre
the election.” Included were the pledge of a free vote on hunting
with dogs; support of “scientific agreed ways of controlling
tuberculosis in badgers,” which Bowles called “code for a cull”; a
promise to revisit the 1986 Dangerous Dogs Act, which failed to
curtail proliferation of fighting breeds because it banned “pit
bulls” but not Staffordshire terriers; and support of sustainable
agriculture, implying opposition to factory farming.
“In addition,” Bowles noted, “there were five topics passed
on from the previous government.” Updating the Dangerous Dogs Act
was one of the holdover topics. The others, Bowles said, were
“what to do with animals in circuses; standards on the farming of
game birds; standards on the farming of chickens, implementing a
European Union directive; and implementing the EU law on use of
animals in laboratories.
“At present,” despite the delayed prohibition of
beak-trimming, “they have agreed to a better standard on chicken
farming than other EU countries, a positive move, supported by the
RSPCA and opposed by the farming industry,” Bowles continued. “They
fully signed up to the EU ban on battery cages for laying hens due in
2012. They agreed to a standard on game bird rearing, which
overturned the previous government’s commitment to ban battery cages
for rearing game birds.
“They agreed to have a consultation on badger control, but
no decision has been made yet. This will happen early in 2011.
“They have not yet called a free vote on hunting, as the
votes are not in their favor, but will do so at some stage, as it
is in the coalition agreement,” Bowles said. “They have yet to
agree on what to do about circuses. They have not yet agreed what to
do about dangerous dogs.
“I would say the picture is mixed,” Bowles assessed, “with
positives on laying hens and chickens and negatives on game birds
and badger culling.”

Dangerous Dogs Act

The most strongly supported proposed amendment to the
Dangerous Dogs Act would require that all dogs be microchipped.
A House of Lords bill to more extensively amend the Dangerous
Dogs Act is in committee, introduced by Liberal Democrat Peer Rupert
Redesdale and endorsed by the trade periodical Pet Industry News,
would repeal the breed-specific provisions, extend the ability of
law enforcement to issue warnings for alleged dangerous dog behavior,
and extend the application of the law to incidents occurring on
private property.
But Bowles told ANIMAL PEOPLE, “I can confidently say that
amending the Dangerous Dogs Act on breed-specific issues is not
likely or on the government agenda. The RSPCA position is that
ultimately we would like it amended,” Bowles said, “but in the
short term this would not be politically expedient, not least from
an enforcement side. The RSPCA believes that a preventive measure
must be adopted with dangerous dogs,” Bowles elaborated. “The
issue of fighting dogs is rising here, and going out of the
traditional fighting communities, which is worrying, particularly
as it is so closely tied up with status dogs and dangerous dogs.”
Said Dogs Trust chief executive Clarissa Baldwin, “Sadly it
does not look as though the coalition government is going to do
anything much for companion animals. The Department of Environment,
Food and Rural Affairs has had their budget severely cut, including
personnel. Indeed, with all the cuts, we may see a reduction in
dog wardens too, so the situation could become much worse.”
Observed Mayhew Animal Home vice chair James Hogan, “I think
it is fair to say that economic and financial woes have preoccupied
most people here in recent months to such an extent that animal
welfare has not received the same attention from either politicians
or the media as in the past.”
But Animal Aid director Andrew Tyler told The Independent
that “There will be no let-up” in activism. “As we observe the
dismal trajectory that this government seems to be headed in,” Tyler
said, “we remain more determined than ever to carry on revealing
abuse and exploitation, and to press for positive change.”

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